When Sara Bareilles’ 2010 album “Kaleidoscope Heart” debuted atop the Billboard 200 chart, the achievement proved that the “Love Song” singer-songwriter was not a pop personality to underestimate. The California native could have very well drifted off into obscurity wearing a one-hit-wonder tiara following the slow-growing success of that single, but “Kaleidoscope Heart” and its lead single “King of Anything” demonstrated that Bareilles had discovered a charming pop formula and a host of ideas that could be distributed over whole albums, not just their punchy lead singles.
For “The Blessed Unrest,” released through Epic Records on Tuesday (July 16), Bareilles made the conscious decision to clear the blackboard and start anew, in spite of her prolonged recent success. She swapped coasts and moved to New York. She started co-writing more, with artists like fun.’s Jack Antonoff. “I felt antsy when thinking about coming from the same angle [with this album],” she told Billboard last month. “Like, ‘OK, I’m going to sit down at the piano and write some songs, then I’ll pick a producer.’ The whole methodology being a mirror image of what had come before just wasn’t feeling exciting.”
Inside Sara Bareilles’ Blessed Unrest
“The Blessed Unrest” is exciting when viewed in its larger context as a transitional album; the 12-song collection has its share of light fare that could earn spins on adult contemporary radio, but it’s also more lyrically daring and serious-sounding, as if Bareilles craned her neck to see Fiona Apple’s caliber of song craft and asked, “Why can’t I do that?” There are allegories, struggles with mortality, fussy arrangements and searing vocals. Some of these risks do not pan out, such as when Bareilles commits to a constellation’s point of view on “Cassiopeia,” but on a song like “Manhattan,” which beautifully reenacts the end of a long-distance love affair as a battle between skyscrapers and a sandy beach, Bareilles spreads wings that many were not aware she possessed. Bareilles’ new album was the result of unrest, but as its title suggests, she has positively embraced her dissatisfaction and subsequently grown as an artist.
Which songs on “The Blessed Unrest” are worth exploring? Check out this track-by-track review of Sara Bareilles’ new album.
Inspired by a friend’s struggle to come out as gay, “The Blessed Unrest’s” lead single is Bareilles’ most ebullient radio offering to date, with unchecked passion spilling into her words on the commanding chorus.
2. Chasing The Sun – Bareilles’ patented mix of piano, smoothed-out percussion and pulsing synthesizers nods to the singer-songwriter’s recent move to New York City on “Chasing The Sun.” The verses are evocative, but the chorus’ lyrics — “Fill up your lungs and just run/But always be chasing the sun!” — proves a bit too vague.
3. Hercules – Bareilles keeps her bubbly vocal impulses in check on the mid-tempo “Hercules,” opting for downbeat intonations in order to plead for inner strength. It’s a breathtaking performance that demonstrates Bareilles’ range as a singer.
4. Manhattan – “You can have Manhattan/’Cause I can’t have you,” Bareilles laments on the tingly piano ballad, which finds the songwriter caught between two worlds and relinquishing one to a ex-flame. With its powerful lyrical details and thoughtful instrumentation, “Manhattan” represents a towering triumph for Bareilles.
5. Satellite Call – Wave your lighters (or illuminated cell phone) high on “Satellite High,” a soothing anthem that combats loneliness with unsubtle drums and washed-out guitar blasts. “Satellite Call” aims for the sky as an antidote to the metropolitan sadness of “Manhattan”; it’s about a minute too long, but for the most part effective.
6. Little Black Dress – A kicky showcase for Bareilles’ winning radio formula, “Little Black Dress” checks all the boxes for fans searching for another “King of Anything” — handclaps! Melismas! Carefree dancing! A “moving on to bigger and better things” vibe! “Little Black Dress” serves as a fun palette-cleanser that would make a logical single choice.
7. Cassiopeia – Nearly a decade after Joanna Newsom originally named a song after the Greek mythological figure known for her vanity, Bareilles tackles “Cassiopeia” in a more elliptical manner, spinning a yarn of a constellation yearning to escape her fate through a shooting star. The songwriter tries her darnedest on the lyrical experiment, but “Cassiopeia” remains a tough sell.
Sara Bareilles ‘Makes An Album’: Watch The Webisode Premiere
8. 1000 Times – Unquestionably the most accomplished song on “The Blessed Unrest,” “1000 Times” floats across pangs of flirtation before Bareilles drops the hammer: “‘Cause I would die to make you mine/Bleed me dry each and every time/I don’t mind, no I don’t mind it/I would come back 1000 times.” The song blooms as its artist’s heart swells, and Bareilles comes off as sorrowful but riveting.
9. I Choose You – Any song would have a difficult time following the emotional heft of “1000 Times,” but “I Choose You” does its best to stay nimble and please fans looking for a “lifelong love letter.” The backing vocals, string plucks and soaring romantic declarations make this a bid for future wedding playlists.
10. Eden – Three songs after shouting out Cassiopeia, Bareilles uses Adam and Eve as allegory over stuttering rhythms and electro-pop synths. “Eden” contains a lot of likable elements, but some of the lyrics — “Rolled a lucky pair of dice, ended up paradise/Landed on a snake’s eyes, took a bite and ended up bleeding” — land with a clang.
11. Islands – Another song that references the life changes that Bareilles experienced while piecing together “The Blessed Unrest,” “Islands” shows Bareilles peering inside herself after giving up on romance and proclaiming, “You must become an island/And see for yourself that that’s what I am.”
12. December – “The Blessed Unrest” concludes with Bareilles latching onto a repetition device in the verses, as she hammers home feelings of change and “the darkened state I’m in.” Here, the arrangement perfectly complements Bareilles’ restlessness, and the singer-songwriter offers another revealing peek into her psyche.