Sara Bareilles, a gifted vocalist, songwriter and pianist given to buoyantly blending pop and soul, paid her dues in the L.A. club scene after graduating from UCLA in 2002. In 2007 her “Love Song” topped the charts, earned a Grammy nomination and pushed her into the national spotlight. Three years later, she’s still building up momentum.
The title track poetically compares life to a beautiful collision of colors (“All the colors/Of the rainbow/Hidden ‘neath my skin”) and concludes on an optimistic note (“I have hope”). “Let the Rain” expresses a soulful desire for emotional catharsis (“I want to let the rain come down/Make a brand-new ground.”) “The Light” promises loyalty through rough times (“And if you say it’ll be all right/I’m gonna trust you, babe/ … And I’ll follow you into the light”). “Bluebird” ends a romantic relationship with dignity, and Bareilles asks a self-centered ex-boyfriend for an apology on “Say You’re Sorry.”
“Machine Gun” encourages a troubled man to stop antagonizing women, using a gun metaphor in an effort to convince him to cease hostilities (“Will you try it once?/Give up the machine gun”). Inhabiting similar territory, the upbeat “King of Anything” bluntly tells a bullying naysayer to back off (“Who cares if you disagree? You are not me”) and shows us a young woman grappling with her status as a people pleaser (“All my life I’ve tried to make everyone happy/While I just hurt inside/Waiting for someone to tell me it’s my turn to decide.”
Though breakups aren’t an inherently objectionable topic, the fact that more than half of Kaleidoscope Heart’s 13 tracks deal with ruined romances needs to be noted. On the incongruously happy-sounding “Gonna Get Over You,” for example, Bareilles flounders emotionally, wondering how her heart will ever heal—a subject she returns to over and over again on “Hold My Heart,” “Bluebird,” “Not Alone,” “Basket Case,” “Gonna Get Over You” and “Breathe Again.” On the latter, she sings, “All I have/All I need/He’s the air I would kill to breathe.” More somber are the lyrics on “Not Alone,” where the singer’s anxiety about being alone increases as the sun sets (“I don’t want to be alone/Sky, don’t let the sun go/I’m not ready for the darkness/Swear upon a heartless soul”).
One profanity (“h‑‑‑”) turns up on “Uncharted.”
Part sugar, part take-a-hike-buster! spice, Sara Bareilles sports an attitude and sound that bring to mind Patty Griffin and Fiona Apple. But this California crooner still manages to deliver her own distinct mix of articulate angst and friendly feistiness. You don’t have to listen long to understand why Bareilles’ affable, radio-ready songs have connected with so many listeners.
I was struck by the way Bareilles so slyly cloaks her heartaches in bouncy, vibrant musical accoutrements. Happy-sounding tunes stand guard over melancholy reflections about love gone wrong. That’s not the only lyrical theme on offer here, though. These songs also provide just enough genuinely upbeat messages about love, hope and self-respect that listeners aren’t left languishing in romantic despondency.