THE LO DOWN: â€œKaleidoscope Heartâ€ Sara Bareilles
When Kaleidoscope Heart hit shelves/iBrains this week, Sara Bareilles fans the world over held their breath. (We’ve all heard of the sophomore curse, no?) So what happens when your first album (2007’s Little Voice) shoots to success and you don’t squeeze out another for three years? (In the pop scene to boot, which is worse than dog years â€“ 36 months goes by and you’re retro, dudes. Fergie who?)
I think we can safely breathe a collective sigh of relief, kids. You heard it first: Kaleidoscope Heart does not suck.
Opening with a brief a cappella verse that’s reminiscent of The Rescues’ sweet melancholy “My Heart With You”, Bareilles’ vocal prowess is showcased beautifully â€“ and wisely â€“ in the title track. The rhythmic piano chords of “Uncharted” erupt next and it’s clear that Barielles (and her producers, including Neal Avon of Weezer/Fall Out Boy fame) know what works. Drop in that bass with the keys, kick the snare to remind us where to clap, and most of all, let that woman sing.
Much like her first album, what shines here is Bareilles’ command of vocal phrasing and lyrics. The melodies go where I want them to â€“ it’s pop music after all, and too many unresolved cadences won’t sound pleasing in that Toyota commercial â€“ but she manages to unhinge her voice in surprising places, highlighting tongue-in-cheek lyrics and reminding us that she will go off when necessary. The first half of the album clearly follows Little Voice‘s playful hit “Love Song” in this regard â€“ major verses, minor bridges, everybody dance sway now. (Apparently also like “Love Song”, the lyrics to Kaleidoscope’s single “King Of Anything” is another fâ€”k you to the record label. I’m sure they’re upset. Ka-ching.) And, just as my ears tire of the formula, “Basket Case” changes it up with guitar, ukulele, harmonica, and a bit of restraint. Good move, B.
My only critique of this album is the nearly incessant use of harmony. I know that Bareilles comes from a choral background and rocked UCLA’s a cappella group or whatever â€“ but I get a wee bit tired of hearing ten million Saras in the background of every track. Yes, the tone mixes beautifully. You sound really awesome withâ€¦ yourself. But there’s a thin line between tasteful and self-indulgent and I’m not always sure which side we’re on here. And hey, B â€“ I like you too much to tell you to shut it (but, you know, shut it).
Overall, I’m excited to continue to get to know this album. Joni Mitchell meets Ani DiFranco with a lot less angst and a lot more… rom com. There is depth here, an unraveling through the tracks that I can’t help but listen for in spite of its pop appeal. In fact, I think Bareilles has tricked us yet again with a pop album as catchy as it is layered and dang it if the focus doesn’t shift and transformâ€¦ like a kaleidoscope. Ohhhh snap.
Catch her on tour â€“ she’s fresh live (and can’t harmonize with herself 100 times over).