46:48 min • Dramatico • April 8, 2013
I Awake, Sarah Blasko’s fourth album, aptly launches with a startling drum rhythm. Almost ten years since her debut, the Australian singer-songwriter returns with one of her strongest albums yet. This opening drumming says she has something to tell and she wants us all to listen. She defiantly asserts a newfound assurance on the title track that embodies the central theme of the album:
I’ve tried to make this life my own
To find myself, I’ve searched alone
To let love go and let it in
I found it burning like a sin
I’ve worked it out, but learned it hard
While not dubbed a concept album, I Awake strongly focuses on the realisation of self. Over twelve songs it explores the joy and struggle in finding oneself again. Its lyrics deal with how people can lose sight of themselves in life and love, but also how a person can once again reach an inner place of security and identity. ‘God-Fearing’ and ‘Fool’ battles with negative, unsatisfying relationships and its effect on self-worth, ‘An Oyster, A Pearl’ describes the gift and trick in being yourself, whilst ‘Cast The Net’ promises not the let the hurt of the past shadow the future.
Not only does the album express a sense of awakening, it also signals a new direction in her sound. Taking the producer’s chair for the first time on her own, Blasko infuses her blend of alternative pop with an added dimension of classical music. Dedicating the album to her father, the singer explained that the decision originated from her childhood, when he would constantly play classical to her before bed. As a result, she swore she would never interpret the genre in her own music, ever. Years later and with the help of the Bulgaria’s New Symphony Orchestra, she has succumbed to the youthful resistance which magnificently adds a rich, emotional depth to the songs.
It is a collection of big songs that take on big emotions. Admittedly, the songs are quite simple in structure, but they embrace dramatic and embellishing classical arrangements that ignite the songs with colour and feeling. ‘Illusory Light’ rolls along with a simple piano melody, with the orchestra delicately building to reach a crescendo matching the the song’s meaning “You blew me like a breeze and rolled out like a storm”.
‘Here’ is the heart of the record, with the singer at her most sparse and intimately fragile. Recorded with a ukulele and the orchestra, she sings with deep tenderness of being broken hearted and moving on in life. The contrast of soft, quiet beginnings and the huge orchestral climax recalls the charming songs of the early classic Disney films. She captures something so rich in experience, yet so brilliantly innocent.
I Awake is Sarah Blasko’s most fully-realised and compelling offering to date. The album is expansive in its approach, the music and the sentiments she devolves through it. Her writing has reached a place where it holds a mirror up to herself and her audience. The songs serve not to repent, judge or reject the past, but to reflect on it. An album crafted with so much care could not be made without the life experiences she sings of and the lessons learned from them. The awakening she sings of may not just be a personal one, but an artistic one also.
Although it has moments of high drama, it is not an album intending to be showy; rather it seduces the listener with a mature, introspective narrative and communicates a feeling of reaching personal triumph. Just as she declares on the opener “My heart is an adventurer”, this album is certain to take you on a journey.