Now 33 years old and established amongst the multitudes of women in pop-rock, Sara Bareilles is venturing into something that few women in the genre dare to explore: an album inundated by melancholy. Yes, this is the same woman you first heard belting out "Love Song" over a Rhapsody commercial back in 2007, but on her third studio album The Blessed Unrest, Sara Bareilles tends to stray away from songs that your 10-year-old might be listening to on Radio Disney and incorporates a darker songwriting theme. This is a more matured Bareilles; one who has fully experienced the ups and downs of having commercial successes, writer's block, and changing relationships on the road. Much of The Blessed Unrest's content stems from Bareilles' recent relocation to New York City from Los Angeles; a move that undoubtedly resulted in many lost acquaintances and, as evident in numerous tracks, lovers.
Following a several year drought due to writer's block, Bareilles was finally able to silence critics accusing her and "Love Song" of being the infamous one-hit-wonder. The 2010 release of Kaleidoscope Heart served as reassurance to the California-native's fans that she had many more piano-infused soul ballads in stock. Indeed, there is something about Bareilles that sets her apart from the crowd. A combination of uplifting spirit and deep emotion puts her in a unique category, perhaps comparative to Fiona Apple. The track "Hercules" is a prime example of new material that puts Bareilles on a different plateau. The chords are downtrodden and consistent to the album's motif of searching for strength in times of sorrow.
But The Blessed Unrest is not purely dominated by depression, either. The album's lead single (and by far most radio-friendly track) "Brave" is an emotionally powerful and uplifting song despite the darker origins of its creation. Bareilles, with help from fun.'s Jack Antonoff, penned the song amidst the struggles of a close personal friend and his fear of coming out as gay. The chorus demands its listeners to be themselves despite the overwhelming fear of judgment. While this is a songwriting theme that is gradually becoming more and more cliche, the passion spewed out by Bareilles during, "Honestly, I wanna see you be brave," provides a more straight-forward and direct approach on the topic.
The track couplet that best encapsulates the 12-song mood is the heartbroken piano piece "Manhattan" followed by the reassuring "Satellite Call" which serves as a bandage for the previously shattered soul. Bareilles is not shy in admitting that, for a California-sun girl such as herself, the transition to the hustle and bustle of the concrete jungle can often feel tragic. "Manhattan" is about as melancholic as the Sara Bareilles catalogue gets. "You can have Manhattan / Cause I can't have you." It is apparent that a love was lost somewhere between the packing and unpacking of suitcases. While the Manhattan of memory, "The one where we were laughing / And drunk on just being there," seemed great, she would trade it all for the comfort of a single person. Immediately, in "Satellite Call", Bareilles addresses the "lonely child", confiding that there is always someone who cares for you and loves you. A haunting, almost ghostly audio setting on the vocals creates an emotional side-effect. Subsequently, a line can be drawn to conclude that the Bareilles who wrote "Satellite Call" did so to mend the Bareilles who wrote "Manhattan".
The Blessed Unrest is surely Bareilles' most vulnerable work to date. Leaving the worries of mainstream success and pop-hit creation behind, the artist was able to open herself up into a more comfortable state as a writer. Whether she finds herself a home in the state of sadness remains to be seen. Regardless, this album is a satisfying one if it is heard from beginning to end, rather than as a collection of radio singles. If nothing else, Sara Bareilles has broadened her horizons.