12 December 2013

the blessed unrest || sara bareilles || 2013

From pain often comes great art. I've never read anything about Sara Bareilles' personal life, but it certainly seems the songs on this album are a window into it. After all, you can't write genuine songs about heartbreak if you've never experienced it.

So many empowerment anthems are inwardly focused, and what makes "Brave" so interesting is that it's not. Bareilles focuses her encouragement to an unnamed stranger (or strangers) and challenges them to find their inner strength. This compassion seems like a fairly rare emotion, and it made me smile. Musically, it works because it doesn't stray too far from pop conventions, but undeniably has Bareilles' touch.

The theme of bravery continues into "Chasing The Sun," which is about the courage to move out of a town that you've gotten comfortable in and head toward new adventures. I love the metaphor of distant skyscrapers resembling tombstones.

"Manhattan" deals with the horrible post-breakup awkwardness of what to do about favorite places that were once shared. Bareilles backs down, singing "you can have Manhattan, cause I can't have you," offering a sense of relief to both the ex and herself. The acoustic instrumentation of just Bareilles' voice and the piano for the majority of the song was a great choice.

The instrumentation on "Little Black Dress" recalls early '60s Motown, e.g. Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye. The lyrics aren't too memorable, but it's a nice song about the self-confidence one can find simply by tossing on a nice outfit (especially post-breakup).

"Eden" begins with both an acoustic and synthesized drum track and a very cool chorusing effect that reminds me of Imogen Heap's "Hide And Seek." The electronics stick around, but so do the acoustic instruments with which Bareilles is most comfortable, and the result is the most interesting track on the album. Lyrically, it deals with the best way to cope with an irreversible life event - to admit that "life in Eden has changed," a very eloquent way of putting it. Bareilles challenges us to welcome the change head-on, instead of trying to revert.

This is a great collection of songs about inner strength and peace. Bareilles no doubt wrote them after a life-changing event (or two or three), but she maintains accessibility and compassion instead of diving into self-aggrandizing motivational pop. I can't think of a better gift to her listeners.