Written by David Faulkner
Sarah Blasko’s Eternal Return is an unabashed paean to love, and Blasko is more than happy to admit it, “I’m very open about that. It’s a “love album”, and it’s from personal experience.”
For the most part, the lyrics on the album are disarmingly simple. Blasko’s words are direct, almost naked in their honesty, and poetic imagery is kept to a bare minimum. There is a conversational, first-person immediacy about the songs that no listener could ever misapprehend. They are emotionally explicit, and have the ring of truth.
From the opening fanfare of “I Am Ready” listeners will immediately be struck by the new musical terrain Blasko is exploring. The dense layers of strings heard on her previous album, I Awake, have been replaced by a warm wash of analogue synthesizers, punctuated by a military snare drum. “I Am Ready” confronts the duality of human nature and what each of us allows others to see: As Blasko explained, “I’m haunted by the idea of being a good person or an evil person, and I suppose that song is about revealing your darkness, and your strengths – the reality of who you are.” This arresting first song serves as a bridge between the claustrophobic darkness of I Awake and the optimism that characterises much of Eternal Return. “I Am Ready” is a declaration: she may have been awake before but now her eyes are truly open, prepared for whatever challenges love and life may have in store.
“I Wanna Be Your Man” addresses the battle of the sexes, humanity’s oldest undeclared war. The lyrics work on many levels, and are as pertinent to Blasko’s chosen career as they are to her private life. It’s easy for a woman to feel marginalised in the male-dominated world of the music industry. “Every now and then I just think, fuck this – I’m so sick of a room full of men!” Blasko is partly joking but there’s no doubting the immense pressure women are under to avoid ruffling the feathers of the roosters in the henhouse. “I Wanna Be Your Man” is not a diatribe but it skilfully highlights some of the imbalance that persists between the sexes. On top of all that, it’s a terrific synth-pop song.
In fact, Eternal Return has a marked retro-electronic vibe throughout, which was a conscious choice: “I got interested in old synths again, which I haven’t been for a few years,” says Blasko. “Growing up as a kid in the ’80s, a lot of my favourite pop records were synth-based, and lot of my favourite love songs were written in that era.” She names Gary Numan, Diana Ross and Michael Jackson as just a few of the album’s influences, as well as Paul McCartney and Bruce Springsteen. “They were all artists that I grew up listening to. I was thinking about Tina Turner when I was singing “Beyond”. No-one else can necessarily hear it but I had a fun time picturing these things.”
Despite the nostalgic ‘80s influences there is nothing lightweight or cheesy about either the songs or the production. Blasko and her collaborators scrupulously avoid the era’s clichés and keep everything understated and taut, never sugary. The overall effect is that the poignant lyrics and ravishing melodies always take centre stage.
Sarah Blasko’s spectacular voice has always been one of her greatest strengths but she has never sounded better than she does on “Luxurious”. I also happen to think it is one of the best songs she has written:
There have been loves before that only held me down.
Made me feel that I was never enough, or I failed.
But your gentle way with me brings out a lighter side,
Feeling somehow I can open up and bloom.
The singer confessed to me that this song “slightly terrifies” her. Pop music is often a confection of so much artifice and hot air, but Blasko’s plain-spoken lyrics are almost shocking in their honesty: it’s classic pop but it’s also a work of real substance. It’s no wonder she is terrified, because she’s sharing her most intimate thoughts.
“I’d Be Lost” draws upon Talking Heads for inspiration, with a dash of Donna Summer thrown in for good measure – what more could you want? “Better With You”, “Only One”, “Say What You Want”, everywhere you look on the album there is a deftness of touch and a lightness of spirit that would have been unimaginable from the artist only a few years ago. “I wanted the album to come from having a fun experience. The last couple of records I wrote on my own in a room with a piano, and I started doing that again and I got really depressed,” she laughs. “This time I just wanted to dance around in a lounge room.” Blasko also decided to write with other people this time to shake things up. She enlisted some old musical acquaintances, Ben Fletcher and David Hunt, though they’d never written together before. “It was like band camp. The three of us went away and just hung out in a house wearing dressing gowns, drinking…and writing pop songs.” Blasko also collaborated with Nick Wales, someone she has worked with a lot recently. Wales arranged most of the orchestral parts on I Awake as well as co-composing “Emergence” with her for the Sydney Dance Company. The pair decamped to the Wales family farm and indulged their mutual love of pop. “Say What You Want” was one they wrote together and to me it already sounds like a “standard”. It’s blessed with a beautiful melody and tender, heartfelt lyrics and I reckon other singers will be falling over themselves to cover it.
The album closes with the stately “Without Your Love”. The song’s message is not new, but it is one that always needs to be pointed out by artists everywhere, and as often as possible:
If you have not love, you have nothing at all.
This vexed planet of ours would be a far better place if universal love could always be our guiding principle.
Whenever I listen to Sarah Blasko’s albums I feel like I’m navigating a vast ocean, with hidden depths below and uncertain weather above, but on Eternal Return her songs bubble up like a clear, pure, mountain spring. It’s an invigorating tonic for the soul.
Eternal Return (2015)
I Awake (2012)
As Day Follows Night (2009)
What The Sea Wants, The Sea Will Have (2006)
The Overture and The Underscore (2004)
Seeker, Lover, Keeper (with Sally Seltmann and Holly Throsby) (2011)
2 X ARIA awards – Best Pop & Best Female
Album Of The Year – JJJ – As Day Follows Night