Sara Bareilles shows grand ambition and excellent musicianship on The Blessed Unrest, though she sometimes overreaches.
“Anchored home in her interstellar sea / But poor lonely Cassiopeia.” The featured line is excerpted from Sara Bareilles’ “Cassiopeia”, one of several “heady” tracks from her latest effort, The Blessed Unrest. As alluded to by the aforementioned lyric, Bareilles has a prodigious gift for words; she’s incredibly poetic and refined with her pen. The rub with being such an ambitious singer/songwriter is that sometimes your gift can present itself to others as indulgent. To call Bareilles selfish would be a definite overstatement, but, at times on The Blessed Unrest, Bareilles overreaches and others seems a bit blasé. Regardless, Bareilles remains in great voice.
“Brave” opens exceptionally, anchored by its rhythmic nature throughout. Bareilles’ pipes shine above the production, particularly on the featured line of the chorus, “I just wanna see you be brave.” Throughout “Brave”, Bareilles offers words of encouragement and building strength, whether it is lines like “You can be the outcast / Or the backlash of somebody’s lack of love / Or you can start speaking up ... ” or “Don’t run, stop holding your tongue / Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live ... .” Ultimately, it begins The Blessed Unrest off to a fast, moving start.
“Chasing The Sun” continues on an inspirational train, yielding more poetry courtesy of Sara, whether it’s “It’s a really old city / Stuck between the dead and the living ... the gift of my heartbeat sounds like a symphony / Played by a cemetery in the center of Queens” or the somewhat schmaltzy, if genuine “ ... So fill up your longs and just run / But always be chasing the sun.” Thoughtful and well sung, the cons are length and over-encouragement. “Hercules” is stronger (no pun intended), with Bareilles channeling her inner Fiona Apple, particularly using her lower vocal register. The writing still has an inspirational title, but the quirks about this cut give it plenty of separation from the previous, as well as many contemporary pop songs. “Hercules” is among The Blessed Unrest’s greatest triumphs.
“Manhattan” benefits from its restraint and eventual ripening during a piping hot bridge that descends once more back into restraint. Nuanced and pure vocally, with magnificently orchestrated horns for the patient listener, this song is equally poised and lovely. On “Satellite Call”, big pop drums anchor against a relaxed tempo and mysterious vocal production which stacks Bareilles’ vocals. Ultimately not too shabby, length and lethargic tempo takes away slightly from a fairly respectable cut. “Little Black Dress” arrives in the nick of time to increase the tempo, providing a “feel good” groove. With Motown and old-school soulful cues written all over it, Bareilles is able exhibit more energy and infuse more personality. Sure it’s a bit tongue in cheek, but she does her thing.
“Cassiopeia” requires one to remember their astronomy and mythology. Bareilles references the constellation and alludes to the queen of the same name from Greek mythology. The cut is ambitious, perhaps too much so, but grabs one's attention. The proceeding "1000 Times" doesn't benefit from its ambitions like “Cassiopeia", feeling draggy. The country undertone – whether intentional or not – is a pro. "I Choose You" is better, benefitting from its minimalism and its supporting vocal motives. Bareilles sounds incredibly enthused, singing "Tell the world that we finally got it all right / I choose you / I will become yours and you will become mine / I choose you." The enthusiasm annoys a bit on the melismatic treatment of the titular lyric, but there’s nothing wrong with being elated.
Penultimate cut "Eden" continues to exhibit the strong suit of the album, the songwriting. The refrain is wordy, but it's difficult to deny that those abundance of words are top-notch. "Eden" is enjoyable and polished, though it does grow a bit grating – not enough to destroy the vibe though. Closer "Islands" sports a nice vibe with its mysteriousness, but requires the patient, attention-span bearing listener to fully appreciate its many pros.
All in all, The Blessed Unrest is a well conceived effort, but not sans flaws. Bareilles does Bareilles well as always, but a shakeup wouldn't have killed her. There are plenty of solid moments to please easily overshadowing the less stellar, less notable ones. Not bad Ms. B., not bad.