Sarah Blasko has quite a knack for writing choruses. Not the obvious, clichéd variety that popular music often serves up, though; hers are consistently interesting, unpredictable and affecting: familiar enough to immediately engage but with the ability to genuinely surprise. It’s this talent the chorus (and, indeed, for structuring three or four minute songs) that makes her sharp turn towards pop sensibilities on Eternal Return so successful.
The album establishes a fresh path for the singer (whose breakout effort The Overture and the Underscore appeared more than a decade ago), with intricately constructed pop creations awash with eighties synthesizers. You can easily discern some of Blasko’s formative musical influences here: Talking Heads, New Order, Kate Bush and Michael Jackson are all somewhere in the mix. But this much more than the mere art of imitation; the album remains distinctly Blasko, with those slightly off-kilter rhythms and delicate melodies.
Confidently carving out her place in this new milieu, Eternal Return is an unabashedly romantic album focusing on love and human connection. As we might expect, the music is characteristically moody and atmospheric at points, just soaked in disco rhythms and inviting hooks, and complemented by lyrics with a lighter touch, tending towards the positive and the playful.
And Blasko’s voice has never sounded stronger; the recognisably breathy vocals are there, but there’s a commanding, soulful edge in some moments on the album, evident from the opening track ‘I Am Ready’.
The artist also shows us that she can be light and serious at the same time. ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’ offers a droll take on gender issues with some wry social commentary; it’s a track built around delightful synth hooks and a brooding rhythm.
With a heavy verse that opens to a big chorus, ‘Better With You’ is an unashamed love song structured like early U2. Later on, ‘Maybe This Time’ builds in similar fashion, but here Blasko shows she can be experimental even when doing pop. With a quirky, avant-garde feel, the song is distinguished by disjointed rhythms and angular construction. The penultimate number, ‘Say What You Want’, features another of those arresting choruses that creep up on you and truly surprise.
Pre-released track, ‘I’d Be Lost’, is a catchy, dance-worthy tune that again makes a feature of analogue synth lines. The backing vocal, “I was running just as fast as I can to get to you”, is an affecting coda.
‘Beyond’ boasts a big vocal performance, as does ‘Luxurious’, a moody and soulful ballad that moves as a more measured pace. At this point the synth makes way for the simplicity of guitars, bass, drums and organ. The interplay between bass-line and vocals contains a warming hint of Motown.
The syths are back again in big way for ‘Only One’, an upbeat love song with a nice groove and catchy melodies. Veering towards disco, it’s a good representation of the album and an apt choice as its lead single.
The darker atmospherics of ‘Without’ close the album; its unadorned vocal is reminiscent of Blasko’s early song, ‘All Coming Back’. Showing off her remarkable vocal range, the refrain is passionately rendered: “Without love you have nothing at all.” It’s a perfect note on which to finish the record.
Inventive and thoroughly listenable, Eternal Return is another high point in the career of a beautifully creative soul.
Eternal Return is released on Friday 6 November through EMI Music.
Libby Parker recently interviewed Sarah Blasko for The Upside News. Read the article here.
Reviewed by Matthew Trainor