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Most people might think my review of Sara Bareilles' first major label album "Little Voice" was enthusiastic. While waiting for her second album to be released, we played the first one in a loop for weeks, and can assure you that there was no hyperbole in that review. But with my hot little hands on her second album, "Kaleidoscope Heart", be assured that my aching with bated breath was well worth the wait. Apparently I wasn't the only one since this album soared straight to the #1 spot on the Billboard 200 list in its release week.
This album starts out with the title song which is a one minute a cappella piece, using voiceovers of Sara's voice to round it out. This slides immediately into her next song "Uncharted" which includes a line that makes you understand why they are connected. This is "Jump start my kaleidoscope heart, love to watch the colors fade". With so many changes happening on in my own life today, this could almost become my theme song. One line in particular really says it all: "Compare, where you are to where you want to be, and you'll get nowhere". That, combined with the chorus is what really speaks to me. It says:
"I'm going down,
Follow if you want, I won't just hang around,
Like you'll show me where to go,
I'm already out, of foolproof ideas, so don't ask me how
To get started, it's all uncharted."
These two songs set up a precursor for an album with a theme. Having probably listened to this already over a hundred times, I've noticed that almost all of the songs here either have the word "heart" in it, or mention a colour. One of the few songs here that doesn't to conform this is the first single released from this album, which is "The King of Anything". That isn't to say that this isn't a good song, and in fact is one of my favorites, with its f*ck-you lyrics that tell the person she's singing to that he should stop giving her unwanted advice about her life, asking "who died and made you king of anything". But despite the almost harsh lyrics, the song has a light hearted overtone to it. This type of in-your-face story telling repeats itself in the song "Machine Gun" which talks about someone very mean and nasty who gets off on making enemies. Here she analyses the person saying "Maybe nobody loved you when you were young, Maybe, boy, when you cry, nobody ever comes". Then she suggests the person "give up the machine gun". By that she means he should stop shooting out all his hatred.
This suggests that Sara certainly hasn't lost her touch for writing evocative and inventive lyrics in her songs. Of course, with an album named as artfully as it is, not having shown this would have been a letdown. Such creativity really comes into play with the song "Not Alone" which is sort of a Halloween type song that talks about feeling afraid when night falls. The thing makes this song particularly special is the addition of a recording of Alfred Hitchcock speaking about what scares people. Hitchcock was certainly an expert in that area, and this makes the quote all the more appropriate.
If I had to find one word to sum up the personality of this album, it would probably be 'syncopated'. The reason for this is the way Sara sings the key words in her lyrics off of the beat in many of these songs. This is particularly noticeable in the song "Say You're Sorry" where she breaks up the phrases, almost like a rap singer would, in order to put emphasis on the words of importance. While this can have a slightly jarring effect at times, it also makes one sit up and take notice, and is also what brings these songs out of the mushy, bubblegum Pop genre and places her album more into the areas of rock and soul. She even puts a 1950s Rock sound twist into her song "Gonna Get Over You", while "Let the Rain" has a R&B bordering on folk rock feel to it with its very rhythmical repetitive drum beat behind the closing phrases.
So far, I've only mentioned the more energetic songs here, but she also has some truly lovely rock ballads here as well. In these she turns down the background accompaniments and allows her amazing voice to shine through, along with more minimalist acoustic guitar and/or solo piano. The only drawback of these quieter songs is that they're just a touch monotone in subject matter as compared to the rest of the tracks in that they're all about love. Still, each one has a different take on the subject to disguise this. For instance "Bluebird" is about finding the strength to carry on when a relationship ends while "Basket Case" almost makes fun of how she feels helpless in a bad relationship.
In all, this is a really colourful collection of songs from an amazingly talented singer songwriter that equals, if not tops her debut major label album and proves Bareilles is not a one album wonder. Despite the slightly less varied ballads you'll find here it is still worth five stars out of five and highly recommended.
Davida Chazan © November, 2010
Gonna Get Over You (written with Sam Farrar)
Hold My Heart
King of Anything"
Say You're Sorry
Let the Rain
Kaleidoscope Heart is available new from Amazon for £10.19 or from their marketplace from £6.88, or you can download this from iTunes.