Sara Bareilles' best musical weapon is the element of surprise.
Though her breakthrough pop singles "Love Song" and "King of Anything" are immediately recognizable and hummable, Bareilles still adds enough unexpected twists to keep them interesting. And on "The Blessed Unrest" (Epic), her third album, she fully embraces her unpredictability, boldly bouncing from one musical approach to another.
The first single, "Brave," borrows a bit of the brazen earnestness of co-writer Jack Antonoff's band fun. to hammer home the esteem-building lyrics. However, Bareilles has more subtle, genre-hopping tricks up her sleeves. The Motown-flavored rhythms and horn arrangements in "Little Black Dress" make that song an easy radio-friendly follow-up, but they do nothing to prepare the listener for the weirdly experimental, yet likable, a cappella layers and EDM-inspired sounds of "Cassiopeia" or the Enya-like stacked vocals in the chorus of "Hercules."
Bareilles' biggest surprise may be the hushed, jazzy simplicity of the piano ballad "Manhattan," where she creates one of the loveliest pop moments of the year so far while displaying the power and pain in her clear, distinct vocals. It pairs nicely with "Chasing the Sun," an inspirational pop song sung from "a cemetery in the center of Queens."
Not all of Bareilles' experiments work, though. "Satellite Call" gets a bit too bogged down in new-agey production and swampy effects, while a more straightforward approach to "1000 Times" may have served the melody and the drama a bit better.
However, Bareilles deserves credit for not holding anything back on "The Blessed Unrest," and that paid off handsomely.
"The Blessed Unrest"
THE GRADE B+
BOTTOM LINE Putting her own twist in female-empowerment pop