Album Review: Sara Bareilles ‘The Blessed Unrest’

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If you wrote off the massive success of her debut single “Love Song” and its ubiquitous romantic comedy placement, then you weren’t listening closely to Sara Bareilles. Since then she’s captured audiences in her gravity with such singles as “King of Anything,” the incredibly catchy “Uncharted” and her latest anthem, “Brave.”

The age of problem-plagued pop stars is quickly receding and Bareilles is left (almost singularly) waving the flag of a new kind of pop star as she preps the release of her third studio album The Blessed Unrest, due July 16.

The album kicks off with the aforementioned lead single, “Brave,” a perfect pop summer jam that inspires listeners to “say what you wanna say.” Inspired by a friend who was having trouble coming out of the closet, “Brave” has served as an anthemic call during a turning point in GLBT history. And the rest of The Blessed Unrest is just as strong.

According the Bareilles, the album was written over the last year of her life—a period which she refers to as transformative. Among those transformations include relocating to New York City and its influence is evident throughout the record. No, Bareilles hasn’t enlisted Jay-Z (or Alicia Keys) on any of the tracks; the Big Apple’s influence is much more subtle.

On the album’s fourth track “Manhattan,” Bareilles channels an old Broadway ballad as she plaintively hands over ownership of an island to a lost lover. While you could imagine a production that leaves Bareilles singing on top of a piano, we said she's a new kind of pop star. Someone needs to write a Broadway musical and place Bareilles at the piano now.

Listening to the album and the narrative that follows the breakup ballad “Manhattan,” one cannot help but feel they are getting a glimpse into one of Bareilles’ relationships. Highlights from the latter half of the album include “Little Black Dress,” “Eden” and “Islands.”

With a horn-packed production, the playful, bounce back track “Little Black Dress” is an empowering rebound song.  When Bareilles croons the word cryin’ in the first verse, there’s a faint nod to Roy Orbison in the delivery. “Eden” and its opening is very reminiscent of Prince’s “7.” The track soars over bouncy synths and the ultimate payoff is in the bridge when Bareilles laments “choking on the air of Eden.” On “Islands” Bareilles channels some of the dark moody production that made Tori Amos successful. The piano-driven track challenges a lover (or friend) to see “the horizon isn’t all we have.”

The album’s standout track and sure to be a hit single (and played at countless GLBT weddings and engagement parties over the next year) is “I Choose You.” The song itself is a testament to finding that special someone you choose to spend the rest of your life with. With catchy claps and a restrained vocal performance, “I Choose You” screams for a marriage equality video.

The Blessed Unrest is surely the strongest album Bareilles has released and continues to solidify Bareilles as a different kind of pop star: smart, catchy but most of all she’s one of us.

Bareilles will bring The Blessed Unrest to The Ryman Auditorium August 24th. Tickets are available here.

You can pre-order and stream The Blessed Unrest prior to its release on iTunes. Enter to win a copy from O&AN here.