A decade ago, I wrote a series of entries ranking my favorite albums from 1985 to 2004. My collection has expanded greatly since then, particularly in the last five years. So I wanted to see what has changed in 10 years.
I had discovered so much music in 1987 that at the time, I thought 1988 was a dud by comparison. Over the years, I’ve discovered that is not the case. The Favorite 10 doesn’t change from the original list, but look at that expanded list.
In Tua Nua, The Long Acre
Midnight Oil, Diesel and Dust
Kronos Quartet, Winter Was Hard
The Sugarcubes, Life’s Too Good
Tracy Chapman, Tracy Chapman
Living Colour, Vivid
Duran Duran, Big Thing
Sonic Youth, Daydream Nation
The Dead Milkmen, Beelzebubba
Other favorites from the year:
Stephen Sondheim, Into the Woods
John Adams, Nixon in China
Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet, Savvy Show Stoppers
Camper Van Beethoven, Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart
Sarah McLachlan, Touch
Erasure, The Innocents
Sade, Stronger Than Pride
The Pogues, If I Should Fall from Grace with God
The Waterboys, Fisherman’s Blues
The Godfathers, Birth, School, Work, Death
Camouflage, Voices & Images
Ambitious Lovers, Greed
Iron Path, Iron Path
Toni Childs, Union
Throwing Muses, House Tornado
Pixies, Surfer Rosa
N.W.A., Straight Outta Compton
Information Society, Information Society
Ofra Haza, Shaday
The Smiths, Rank
Lucinda Williams, Lucinda Williams
I guess I really limited the expanded list 10 years ago so I wouldn’t have to do so much writing. The Pogues, the Waterboys, the Godfathers, Ambitious Lovers, Ofra Haza, the Smiths and Lucinda Williams would not have appeared on that list — I’ve discovered those albums only in the last 6 years.
What is the memory you most associate with this title?
I read about Sarah McLachlan in a Pulse! magazine article that linked her with Sinéad O’Connor and Tracy Chapman. I didn’t actually make the leap till I heard Touch playing in Jelly’s Books and Music, and I asked the woman behind the counter who it was.
The woman turned out to be Claudette Bond. In 1992, I recognized her onstage at Pink’s Garage with a band called Spiny Norman. They were opening for another new band called Smashing Pumpkins.
What was happening in your life when it was released?
1988 was my junior year in high school. Before I got into McLachlan, O’Connor and Chapman, I had gotten into … musical theater.
The high school band director floated the idea of programming Jesus Christ Superstar for the football game half-time shows. A rather unconventional priest at my family’s parish had a habit of showing movie excerpts to demonstrate ideas in his homilies, one of which was Jesus Christ Superstar.
I borrowed the soundtrack from the public library and got smitten with Andrew Lloyd Webber. He could clearly write a tune, but in those moments between showstoppers, he had rock bands playing dissonant music straight out of Prokofiev. That was the gateway drug to stronger, weirder stuff.
What was happening in your life when you bought it?
I probably didn’t pick up the cassette till 1989. At the start of high school, I had tried to ingratiate myself with the so-called cool kids by listening to the same music they did. By the end of high school, my tastes had diverted further than some faculty members.
My musical theater phase subsided to make way for more post-punk music. And all the things adults were telling me about how I would eventually feel for girls … wasn’t happening for me.
What do you think of it now?
History has not been much kind to Sarah McLachlan.
Her albums litter the dollar bins and thrift stores, and in the same way I used Carole King as shorthand for milquetoast music of the 1970s, McLachlan has become the same kind of cudgel for music of the 1990s.
But I also followed McLachlan’s albums throughout the ’90s, and I don’t feel the promise of Touch was realized.
Her operatic training set her apart from Chapman and O’Connor, but that smoothness let labels steer her in a safer direction. The last single I liked from McLachlan was “Building a Mystery”, but it was no “Vox”.
Touch is the album you must own if you had to pick up a Sarah McLachlan album.