Originally published on So So Gay on 15 June 2014.
The Blessed Unrest is the new studio album from American singer/songwriter Sara Bareilles, following on from 2010’s Kaleidoscope Heart. Perhaps still best known for her 2007 single ‘Love Song’, Sara Bareilles is clearly trying to flex her musical muscles with her latest album, evolving from her singer/songwriter roots.
Bareilles wrote The Blessed Unrest following a relocation to New York City and a generally ‘transformative year’, according to the singer, inspiring her to reflect the energy of her vibrant new home and encompass broader themes. The question is, how successfully has she managed to do this? Some would argue ‘why fix what ain’t broke?’, but while 2007’s Little Voice was a near flawless album, Kaleidoscope Heart was a slightly patchier affair, retreading the same territory with less success. Trying something new, therefore, is probably her most sensible next move.
Perhaps reflective of Bareilles still experimenting with, rather than having finalised her new sound, the ‘artistic stretching’ is rather eclectic and also varying in success. While lead single and album opener, ‘Brave’ is a rousing and summery triumph – the product of a rare writing collaboration for Bareilles with fun’s Jack Antonoff – ‘Hercules’ feels like a bit of a stylistic and musical mess. This is a shame since lyrically it’s an interesting autobiographical track about her struggles with finding inspiration for writing and evolving as an artist.
Elsewhere, there’s the toe-tapping and Motown-flavoured ‘Little Black Dress’, which is a sound that works well for Bareilles. It’s preceded by the slightly less successful ‘Satellite Call’. It’s actually a very good track, but the vocal effects on Bareilles’ delivery, no doubt to tie in and build on the spacey concept, only serve to distract rather than enhance the listen. Less is more in this case.
It’s certainly not all Sara Bareilles 2.0 here though. The aforementioned ‘Brave’ is in many ways her classic sound, but then we have ‘Manhattan’, ‘Islands’ and ‘December’ which are all understated and emotive piano-dominated ballads. ‘Manhattan’ in particular is a wonderful example of how engaging she is with just a piano to complement her voice, and the emotion she can put into her delivery. True talent doesn’t need all the bells and whistles.
While ‘Brave’ is certainly a wise choice for a lead single, there are many more exciting options. The utter joy and uplifting vibe of ‘I Choose You’ is an album highlight and could easily be a future single, with its instantly catchy chorus and impressive cascading runs by Bareilles. ‘Eden’, which follows is arguably the biggest change in direction here, finding Bareilles embracing synths and drum machines rather than her trusty piano, but it nonetheless works brilliantly. Finally, there’s the fun and skittish ‘I Wanna Be Like Me’, which closes the iTunes version of this album on a high, leaving the listener with an exciting taster of yet another direction the talented artist could go in.
The experimental direction of the album is a double-edged sword here. While it’s showing how truly talented a songwriter Bareilles is and her ability to grow as an artist, it does mean the album isn’t quite as sonically cohesive as it could be. Nevertheless, there are some cracking songs on here that show Sara Bareilles should never be relegated to the ‘just another singer/songwriter’ category.
Standouts: ‘Brave’ / ‘I Choose You’ / ‘Eden’ / ‘I Wanna Be Like Me’