Identity has always been a relative term, especially in an industry that constantly changes. To stay in the loop, one must constantly try to explore uncharted territories while holding on to their strengths as an artist. They must swim with the sharks and come back alive–but with The Blessed Unrest, Sara Bareilles didn’t just come back alive, she brought the sharks with her.
On a one-dimension point of view, this record seems safe. Bareilles didn’t steer away from her signature piano-pop artistry. The likes of her former glory hits “Love Song”, “King of Anything”, and “Uncharted” still remains evident in this record. And that’s good–clinging to your strengths is always good.
But we started this review with Brave for a reason.
Songwriting–easily Bareilles’ strongest facet as an artist–speaks loudly, more than anything in this record. But that fact is like sky is blue, everybody knows it. However, Bareilles found a way to surprise us in a dark horse kind of way. The girl knows her craft and this record is gonna be Bareilles’ most poetic one–her coming-out-of-the-shell moment (because everybody has that moment). This album, although filled with familiar pop tunes, packages Bareilles in a darker, more mature but not rebellious way.
And that’s brave; in an industry where people mostly care about signature clappers and club mixes, Bareilles chooses to hold on to her strengths that made her interesting in the first place.
The first single, Brave, remains this album’s strongest track. Inspired by a friend’s struggle to come out, Brave is your typical morning jam, something that would set your mood almost instantly. It is encouraging without being melodramatic, and also fun. It could be your summer song and when she sings I just wanna see you be brave — you can admit you feel a little more braver.
She takes a walk down Kaleidoscope Heart‘s memory lane in Little Black Dress (think Gonna Get Over You for a second). It’s gonna force you to a light foot-stomping and it’s just catchy enough that when she sings This doesn’t have to be a sad song / Not with my little black dress on — you go with it; even if in essence, this is a breakup song. She does the same with Cassiopeia, Chasing the Sun, and I Choose You; she dictates the pace and listeners won’t have any choice but to actually listen. It gives you that fabulous running-the-supermarket-cart-down-the-aisle feeling: in equal parts free and liberating.
But as much as we all love these radio-friendly, catchy morning jams, Bareilles nails it most when she slows it down–when it’s just the piano and her voice. It’s when Bareilles is raw and bare that she’s at her best.
Manhattan does heartbreak like nothing else in this record. It’s not one of those blood-and-thunder heartbreak songs but when she sings And I know that holding us in place is simply fear of what’s already changed — you feel just as spent as she probably was when she wrote this.
A personal favorite would probably be 1000 Times. For two seconds, it almost felt like Hold My Heart and her voice along with basic piano and light bass line would always be my most favorite things about the 33-year old New York-based songstress. When she sings Push me away and tell me never / I don’t mind, no I don’t mind it / I would come back 1000 times — it makes me come back to this song, a thousand times.
Her impeccable songwriting is most obvious on Satellite Call. It’s not anywhere near her still most-emotional track to date Gravity but it’s one of those songs that will make you feel better after a long day. Bareilles’ bare voice makes this song work; she has an unmasked vulnerability that it almost takes your breath away. And when she sings:
This is so you know the sound
Someone who loves you from the ground
Tonight you’re not alone at all
This is me sending out my satellite call
— you believe her.
Sure there are weaker tracks but so does every other album on the market, and Bareilles’ pure musicality has compensated enough for all the flaws of this record. This is not Bareilles’ best work to date but this, this is undoubtedly the bravest.
Cross-posted on: The Magic Room Project