Release Date: April 5th 2019
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- No Such Thing
- If I Can’t Have You
- Eyes on You
- Miss Simone
- Wicked Love
- Poetry By Dead Men
- Someone Who Loves Me
- Saint Honesty
- A Safe Place to Land (feat. John Legend)
Let me say this from the outset. No, Sara Bareilles is not a Christian artist, but rather, a very popular mainstream one currently. Yes, I know that when we set out to unveil this site around 5 years ago, it was to primarily review Christian music and to give our own thoughts upon music with an inspirational edge. But, and may I say this ever so gently…ever since I undertook what I believe is one of the boldest decisions with regards to this site as a whole, earlier on during the year in the form of Momentous Mondays; I’ve come to realise one thing- God is not necessarily in the business of making us comfortable, but rather, to unsettle us to the point where we know that whatever we listen to, whatever we watch on TV, whatever is filling our minds, is either going to turn us to God, or away- there’s no middle ground. Yes I know that’s a bold statement, but I firmly believe, that yes, even some mainstream music can be impacting to us in our own walks with Christ. And indeed, some mainstream music has profound words of profanity and derogatory music from the get-go- which for me is never going to be a style of music that I venture into. But as I’ve delved into music and other artists this year that I’ve felt have impressed upon society and music as a whole, I’m learning that God can speak through general mainstream music, as much as He can, through CCM. And that’s ok. I’ve come to be at a point of understanding that I can and am allowed to enjoy music that isn’t within the realms of the box labelled ‘Christian’. That God can, and does, show us things about ourselves and Himself through the discovery of different modes of music, which is exactly what this Momentous Mondays posts have been about.
Which leads me to this ‘review’ of sorts. No, in fact, this isn’t a review. Yes, Sara unveiled to us her new album Admist the Chaos in April, and here we are in August, I myself meaning to review this album as the months tick over. And so I’ve come to this conclusion. That this ‘review’ isn’t a review, but rather, an appreciation of Sara over the years. There are tonnes upon tonnes of reviews of Amidst the Chaos out there- leave it to Vanity Fair, Variety, MSN, The Musical Hype, The Times and Yahoo to do a much better job and reviewing albums than me, especially Sara’s new one. Even if I were to attempt to review such an album like this, I don’t think I’ll do it the justice it deserves. But…what I will say is this. Sara’s music as a whole walks the line of being inspiring and offensive, of being uplifting and unsettling, of being hopeful and questioning, all at the same time. And there’s nothing wrong with that. For if we don’t wonder, ponder, and indeed question, we won’t grow, and seek, and learn, and understand. For if we don’t understand, we won’t have empathy for the other side of people and their own plight. And as this album as a whole speaks of the chaos that surrounds our lives, but also reminds us all that it is ok to keep going and to move forward in the midst of it, is something we as Christians, and even we as humans, often overlook. We tend to wallow in whatever difficulty we have, thinking that it is not ok to move on, simply because we feel like we don’t deserve to, or, worse still, we feel unworthy. As a Christian, I know my worth comes from Christ alone, and that what I do or don’t, doesn’t impact my own value as a person, but for the general population, feeling worthless and not being able to move forward in life is a very recurrent theme in many people’s albums, not just Amidst the Chaos.
Sara’s music has been refreshing and gut-wrenching to say the least, and you can read all about Sara and her music on my own Momentous Mondays post here. But what I will say for those who are in fact lazy to read, is this: Sara is using her music in a way that raises up a generation of people who are not afraid to be real with their emotions. For much of Sara’s music is indeed relationship based, because, I guess after songs about girls, parties, cars, the beach, being bored, loving life and just plain fun, what other songs are there? Relationship songs, be it between family members, a significant other, or even the ultimate relationship of all, between the created and the creator; are at the crux of what we connect with and enjoy, more so than any other style and theme of the song in question. And Sara’s music, upon reflection, has a lot of relationship-style songs- whether it be songs of lament, of loss, of longing, of joy and laughter. Whatever the emotion that we feel when hearing these songs, Sara has them all, and we are impressed to see a woman, this age of 40, become a pillar of influence in a community wanting to find their voice and express their hopes, dreams, hurts and failures. Much of Sara’s music can be an avenue for such a voice to stand tall and speak out amongst the sea of monotonous moments of redundant day-to-day life. Sara, though only in the music game for 12 years, has nevertheless, created a platform for many to follow after her, a reminder that it is ok to express how we feel, that our feelings matter and what we believe about a situation is manifested in how we act upon (or act against) such thing we feel strongly about!
Amidst the Chaos is one full of rejuvenation and a sense of purpose and intentionality as Sara herself admits that in the process of completing this album, it’s been a lot freer in exploring the production side of things, than in albums gone past. And as we look through the songs, we can see a few standouts- ‘Armour’ is a female empowerment song that was written in response to what can be seen and viewed of what is happening to women at the moment, while ‘Fire’ is a song of lament of the end of a relationship and using the metaphors of fire and cold as to symbolise the beginning (and middle) of a relationship as opposed to the end. The duet with John Legend, ‘A Safe Place to Land’, is a nice eloquent and quasi-spiritual melody that allows us to want to have a safe place to land, as we wonder where its going to come from, while other songs like ‘Poetry By Dead Men’ and ‘Saint Honesty’ also solidify the album lyrically as Sara continues to tread the line between relevant reflective pop and radio friendly material that can relate to the everyday person that only listens to radio- the former about hoping against hope that the person you are longing to be with returns their affections so that you are not stuck with all the ‘poetry by dead men’, while the latter is a reminder for each of us to hold dear and value honesty- be it calming or ugly, honesty is what will create authenticity and respect amongst people who may have differing views or opinion.
‘…We pushed to release that song after the Kavanaugh hearings. I was really impacted by that, and felt like in that moment in time, it was like, this is what I want to say right now. Walking amongst hundreds of thousands of people [in the 2017 Women’s March] was the safest and the most gentle experience. It was so powerful and so quiet, it was unreal. I had never experienced anything like it. So I came back and I felt very inspired by the women’s movement and… [started] really looking back and paying attention to how hard people have had to fight for what we have… I’ve always personally, honestly, been afraid of anger. I don’t get angry, I don’t like anger, I don’t like confrontation. But at the same time, anger is there for a reason. I feel like I’ve gone through a personal evolution and a little bit of an awakening of sorts to [see] just how disengaged I’ve been in my life. I’m 39, I turn 40 this year, and I’m only just now realizing how much I wasn’t paying attention. So that’s on me, and I’m at a place where I’m really wanting to right that wrong and stay curious and stay informed and get engaged and involved…’
‘…I had a relationship that kind of fizzled in a way that was really clarifying. We’re drawn to the idea of each other’s potential, but then sometimes what that means is that we’re kind of blinding ourselves to what is actually showing up in front of us. You get really attached to like, ‘Oh, but this person could be so great if they would just’ — staying in that mythology of whether or not someone’s gonna actually show up…’
‘…That one was written in a very question mark moment about a relationship, and thankfully, it’s gone the right way. But in the moment, it was a real question mark… I’m such a dreamer, and so what I am guilty of — my entire life I’ve been this way — is [getting] swept away in your own fantasy. You have all these scenarios you’re painting in your mind about what it could’ve been, all that potential, you know? And either someone rises to meet you or they don’t… I’m really someone who feels like, ‘look, if you didn’t want to end up in a song, you shouldn’t have dated a songwriter. It’s all fair game…’
‘…I wrote that song with an artist named Laurie McKenna… we were in Nashville together, and it was the first day of some of the footage from the borders, when the children were being taken away from their families, and it was the first time you heard the audio of these little babies on the phone, crying. All I could do was just cry about it. It was just un move-past-able. We [McKenna and I] just talked a lot about, can’t we be each other’s safe harbor? Can we not find the compassionate place in our hearts to understand that nobody leaves their home unless it’s horrible? Nobody wants to leave home that way, and put their babies under their arms and walk for thousands of miles. No one does that unless it’s so bad… They [the immigrants] are not the other, they are human beings, and so I’m outraged by this, and by the sort of policies that are being put in place. I understand that it’s not a simple problem, there’s not a simple solution there. I’m not one of those people who’s like, ‘but it’s so f**king fixable,’ you know? I get it, it’s really complicated, but I’m really outraged by the dehumanization…’
[Extracts from the stories behind the songs ‘Armour’, ‘Fire’, ‘Poetry By Dead Men’ and ‘Safe Place to Land’ respectively]
It is in these quotes above that you know that Sara’s music has heart and soul, and emotion and everything you need to evoke responses from people, rather than just nodding your head and saying that ‘it’s a good song’, and then carrying on your merry way. For songs weren’t really meant to just make us feel good. We have songs (or shall I say just big beats) in the clubs for that. No really, songs mean something to people, and Sara’s music, at least songs in Amidst The Chaos, talks of the struggle, and humans trying to waddle through it. And that’s ok, that at times we can’t just walk through the struggles, but rather only waddle. There’s a time where we do in fact need to sit in our worry and troubles, and wrestle with it a little. Wrestle with our families, with our own thoughts, even with God. And that is ok, and very much encouraged.
Amidst the Chaos is an album full of lyrical gems of honesty and calls to action, and maybe, just maybe, not really an album to start off with if you are new to Sara and her music- I recommend albums like Little Voice and Kaleidoscope Heart if you want to see what Sara’s music is about. But having said that, her latest is a surprise- in a good way. But who am I to say? Check out her new album; and give it a run through from start to finish- at least once. Who knows, maybe this album can be the catalyst for change that is very much needed in the year of 2019! Well done Sara for Amidst the Chaos and all it represents. Now time to listen to another mainstream artist in Ed Sheeran- and let’s see what God is trying to say through his music, shall we?
4 songs to listen to: A Safe Place to Land, Orphesus, Saint Honesty, Poetry By Dead Men
RIYL: Sara Groves, Brooke Fraser, Norah Jones, Sarah McLachlan, JJ Heller, Lara Landon, Audrey Assad