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Sarah McLachlan 

Afterglow (Arista)

The saddest thing about Afterglow is that it completes Sarah McLachlan's metamorphosis into exactly the type of bland female artist she once railed against. In her earliest days, the Canadian was a Kate Bush-modeled firebrand, who helped folk-pop shed its snooze-fest image with ornate, haunting songs such as "Into the Fire" and "Possession." She then used her influence to gather a cavalcade of like-minded souls for Lilith Fair, a traveling estrogen fest that celebrated the strength and originality of powerful female voices.

Yet, as with much of Surfacing, her gauzy 1997 creation that often melted into ethereal slush, the firmly midtempo Afterglow sounds like McLachlan could barely spearhead a PTA bake sale, much less organize an entire tour. Her icy croon cracks with pretty but ultimately disconnected emotion on the piano-driven "Drifting," the smooth jazz abomination "Trainwreck," and the interminable "World On Fire." Memorable hooks and interesting ideas are MIA amid the disc's monotonous combinations of strings, synths, and soccer-mom-palatable guitars. Only the lilting, delicate single "Fallen" and the surprisingly rip-roaring riffs on the chorus of "Stupid" possess any staying power -- something McLachlan herself is in danger of losing, if she can't rediscover her feisty voice.

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