Dreamchaser is classical crossover superstar Sarah Brightman's first studio recording in five years. The offering was inspired by her decision to become the first singer in outer space. She has already spent time training, and is scheduled to blast off to the International Space Station in 2015. Mike Hedges and Sally Herbert (the latter formerly of the Banderas) helmed these sessions with heavy hands and regal elegance. The set opens with the spacy classical pop of "Angel," written by Herbert and Jerry Burns specifically for the singer. Its enormous strings, electronic percussion, throbbing bassline, disembodied backing voices, guitars, and harp offer a dramatic entrance -- especially when the choir enters to cap it. Up next is the first eye-opener: her reading of Elbow's "One Day Like This." Her voice is surrounded by sequenced synths, painstakingly arranged strings, and ambient textures, turning this indie pop gem into the mainstream, grown-up variety, yet keeping the song's integrity. She follows it with a reading of Sigur Rós' "Glosoli," with English lyrics by Squeeze's Chris Difford. The beautiful, subtle soundscapes of this Icelandic band are absent here, replaced by a more pronounced sense of melody. That said, ambient sounds, layers of cellos and violincellos, a restrained backing chorus, and drums that sound like muted thunder create a stellar backdrop for Brightman's gorgeous vocal. Her readings of the "Lento e Largo" from Henryk Górecki's Symphony No. 3 and Rimsky-Korsakov's "A Song of India" are less successful, however, due to so much reverb that Brightman actually gets swamped in the mix. Another standout is her version of Sia's confessional "Breathe Me." Framed in sparse keyboards and warm spacious electronics before the other instruments enter, her vocal is treated with digital delay and reverb tastefully, adding dimension to a track she makes her own. Likewise, pushing her version of the Cocteau Twins' "Eperdu" out further on an excess ledge -- while remaining faithful to the basic production -- works quite well, even if it is less delightfully alien than the original. That said, her reading of Paul McCartney's "Venus and Mars" falls quite flat, containing none of the charm written into the tune. Though Dreamchaser may not win her many new fans -- she doesn't need them -- it's is a shoo-in for fans. Despite some missteps, Brightman stretches her comfort zone again; she gets points for even attempting some of these songs. That she pulls off her most daring choices is a testament to her artistry.
© Thom Jurek /TiVo