Sara Bareilles develops an engaging signature sound in Amidst The Chaos, unveiling her journey of personal growth through songs of heartbreak, devotion, and female empowerment.
In the last few years, songstress Sara Bareilles has been enjoying critical acclaim for her massively successful Broadway musical Waitress; however, in terms of her own musical career, she has remained silent for quite a while.
Amidst The Chaos, released April 5 through Epic Records, is a strong comeback album that reaffirms the singer/songwriter’s identity and skillfulness. A melting pot that combines elements from diverse genres in unique ways, Amidst The Chaos shows that Bareilles has many strings to her bow.
Opening track “Fire” starts with intriguing vocal harmonies, joined later by a tribal beat that gives a sense of rawness to the piece. The production blows up as the chorus comes in, enhancing the empowerment the lyrics reflect, whilst maintaining the organic feel: “We were never gonna catch fire, we’d have burned up in the flames”, Bareilles sings decidedly.
Watch: “Fire” – Sara Bareilles
The contrast with the following track, “No Such Thing,” is evident. The prominent beat from the previous song disappears, making way for laid back drums that sit behind the beat, playing around with the tempo.
“Armor,” the next track, comes with a good dose of sass. She finds the silver lining, turning a situation around and making echo of the phrase ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’. Packed with a boss lady attitude and witty references, the song serves as a girl power anthem. “You think I am high and mighty mister? Wait till you meet my little sister”, she sings audaciously. However, the powerhouse of the song is undeniably the chorus, which encapsulates the overall message of the song with clarity:
All my, my, my, my armor comes from you
You make me try, try, try, try harder
Oh, that’s all I ever do, ever do
Oh, no no, my, my, my, my armor comes from you
You make me stronger, stronger
Now, hand me my armor
Watch: “Armor” – Sara Bareilles
On “If I Can’t Have You“, Bareilles embraces a soulful sound, introducing Motown style backing vocals in the second verse, a pleasant surprise indeed. Lyrically, she takes a much more personal approach, unveiling her feelings about heartbreak in a plain, straightforward manner.
“Eyes On You” introduces a rockier sound, present from the very beginning, showcasing Bareilles’ exceptional musicianship and versatility. The chorus seems to act as 00s indie revival, vocally and instrumentally simple, inviting crowds to sing along and get up on their feet.
Bareilles’ returns to the soulful sound with “Miss Simone“, a clear reference to the late iconic artist Nina Simone. In a conversational style, the singer narrates the story of a new beginning for a couple starting their life together. It is its focus on the little things that set it apart from other love songs, bringing the listener into the scene through a brilliant use of description:
Miss Simone singing
Pour some sugar in my bowl, baby
In the glow of the candlelight
We will dance all night
On the rooftop thinking
No one needs to know a thing
But Miss Simone
No one but Miss Simone
A transparent piano introduction leads us into “Wicked Love“, a song filled with vocal acrobatics, and close harmonies. Despite the resentment the lyrics exhale, sonically the piece is light and lively. The tempo drops in the following track, “Orpheus“, adopting a more solemn tone. Bareilles sings about overcoming difficulties and not backing out, the lyrics tinged with devotion.
“Poetry by Dead Men” is another contribution to the sonic diversity of the album, starting with a minimalist piano, short patterns repeating and overlapping, slightly reminiscent of Philip Glass and Steve Reich. This feature, however, seems to be no more than an ornament, as the instrumental arrangement changes quickly into a more pop-like set up. The lyrics are enhanced by the skilled use of sensory imagery in the chorus:
I wanted to be your girl in a white T-shirt
Over coffee, stirrin’ in the cinnamon
While you read me poetry by dead men
I wanted to be your girl
with your hands on my skin
Stirrin’ in the cinnamon
While you read me poetry by dead men
Lush harmonies and soaring vocals characterise following track “Someone Who Loves Me.” The structure of the song is quite unusual, similar to that of a poem, with a recurring refrain, setting a difference with the rest of the album. The penultimate track of the album, “Saint Honesty,” is a heart wrenching, Adele-esque ballad. Tasteful guitar licks intertwine with soft drums, letting Bareilles’ impressive vocal delivery be the protagonist of the song.
Last but not least, the final song of the album, “A Safe Place To Land,” features a very special collaboration with R&B master John Legend. The skilled pair deliver a track about hope in a delicate manner, their voices intertwining to create a touching, uplifting atmosphere.
Bringing together an array of styles, Amidst The Chaos is the evidence of Sara Bareilles’ high levels of musicianship. It seems that the album is aimed to please musically literate listeners, as well the average music fan: the sonic sophistication is balanced with catchy melodies and relatable lyrics, that appeal to wider audiences. Leaving behind the “Love Song” era, Bareilles latest release shows the artist’s versatility in undeniable ways, establishing her as not just a chart topper, but a prolific songwriter with the prospect of long term, sustainable success.
📸 © Sara Bareilles 2019