It’s hard to believe that Sara Bareilles is already on album number three. Alas, her major label debut, Little Voice, was released in 2007. And I’m pretty sure there’s still a radio station somewhere playing its huge hit single, “Love Song,” at any given moment. Of course, her second album, Kaleidoscope Heart, also yielded a major single in the form of “King of Anything,” which is probably on the radio right now as you’re reading this, too. And “Brave,” the lead single from The Blessed Unrest, her just-released third album, is already doing quite well on radio, iTunes and in just about every other way possible. In fact, I’ll be quite surprise if her album doesn’t debut at number one next week.
Chances are you’ve already heard “Brave” three dozen times and bought it from iTunes, but I’m going to say a few words about it anyway. Written by Sara with Jack Antonoff of the band fun., “Brave” is a perfect collision of both artists’ worlds. It’s got the oh-so-punchy pop beat and hooks that you would expect from fun. and the remarkable piano and uplifting vocals we’ve come to expect from Sara. There’s also a part that has some lovely strings. Suffice to say that it’s a mighty impressive melding of mainstream pop and singer/songwriter fare. And the production by Mark Endert (Fiona Apple, Train) is flawless. Speaking of which, Endert also produced two other tracks on the album, “Chasing the Sun” and “I Choose You.”
“Chasing the Sun” is the second track on the album, following “Brave,” and its potent beat is just as heavy — if not even more boisterous — but Sara’s exquisite piano playing is emphasized more during this one. Besides loud beats, the other thing “Chasing the Sun” has in common with “Brave” is a positive message. “You said, remember that life is / Not meant to be wasted / We can always be chasing the sun,” goes the first part of the inspiring chorus. I love how the song ends with Sara singing, “All we can do is try /And live like we’re still alive.” Beautiful.
Sara hits some of her most impressive high notes to date during “I Choose You,” which even affords her the chance to do some little vocal runs, which isn’t something she’s known for, since she tends to prefer to just sing her lyrics and tell her stories, not being a show off in any respect. Unlike “Chasing the Sun” and “Brave,” Endert wisely refrains from giving “I Choose You” a massive beat. The song is ultimately a mid-tempo ballad and he respects that, giving the song just enough of a beat to help drive the track while the focus is on Sara’s incredible vocals and premium lyrics. Besides, musically speaking, “I Choose You” is all about the strings, which are nothing short of gorgeous and entirely moving.
Sara is often at her best when it’s mostly just her and her piano and she’s truly on top of her game on the beautifully melancholic ballad “Manhattan.” “You can have Manhattan / I know it’s for the best / I’ll gather up the avenues / And leave them on your doorstep,” begins the tender and emotive break up song, which also features some subtle but moving horns. “You can have Manhattan / ‘Cause I can’t have you,” ends the Billy Joel-esque tune on a somber note. (It also calls to mind vintage Elton John.)
The piano dances with jumpy drums, flourishes of strings and endearing horns during the impressively arranged “Little Black Dress,” which essentially finds Sara telling an ex to go to hell. “I’ll get my little black dress on / And if I put on my favorite song / I’m gonna dance until you’re all gone,” she sings during the infectious chorus. It will be a shame if this gem isn’t a single.
There’s a futuristic vibe — and a full orchestra — on “Cassiopeia,” which finds Sara poetically singing about how love is like two stars colliding. The song is named after the constellation “Cassiopeia,” which was named after a vain queen in Greek mythology who was known for bragging about her unrivalled beauty. “But, poor lonely Cassiopeia,” Sara sings, using the constellation as a metaphor for a lonely girl who wants to be loved.
The album ends with the reflective ballad “December.” “A winter’s blooming on Los Angeles / The artificial cold is more than I was hoping for / But not enough to consume the darkened state I’m in,” she sings. Her lyrics here are especially clever and well thought out, but her vocals have a whimsical sort of characteristic, keeping the song from ever getting too depressing.
My only complaint about this album — and it’s a tiny, silly one — is that there aren’t any swears (that I’ve noticed). You see, if you’ve seen Sara in concert or listened to her live E.P.s, then you know that she swears like a truck driver or a character in a Quentin Tarantino movie. I suppose she’s just trying to keep her music classy and kid/radio-friendly by not swearing in her songs, but I feel like that’s an element to her personality that she’s refraining from putting in her music and I would just love it if she did a few songs that sounded like the Sara we’ve heard speak over the years.