Waitress is a musical about freedom. Adapted from the 2007 indie film of the same name, it explores the story of a small-town waitress tied down to a dead-end job and an abusive husband, following her affair with a local doctor and rise away from her constraints. In “What’s Inside: Songs from Waitress”, Sara Bareilles expresses the story of the musical (having penned the songs used in the stage production) in her timeless manner, lending to it her soaring vocal flair that made 2007’s “Love Song” such a phenomenal hit.
At its core, Songs from Waitress is a radio-friendly piano-driven rock album. Bareilles’ arrangements on keys and soaring voice give a breezy new take on her tracks from the musical, curating pop hits out of songs that unconverted to a non-stage environment could be seen as over-dramatic. In a way, the studio recording adds a new emotion to the tracks that is not expressible in the musical alone; Bareilles’ voice is remarkably powerful, easily reaching evocative highs and lows that immediately draw often-made comparisons to her early 2000s contemporaries. The stylings of Alanis Morrisette and Fiona Apple spring readily to mind. Hints of Regina Spektor’s mannerisms are also present; although the album may lack some of the depth of the Russian singer’s work, traces are evident in the bouncy piano of tracks such as ‘Door Number Three’.
Although Bareilles’ more conventional approach to the songs is in a different ballpark to standard stage musical fare, her vocal talents are certainly comparable to the most able stars of the stage. Album highlight ‘Everything Changes’ especially highlights her abilities, reaching an emotional peak comparable to Idina Menzel’s performance in ‘Defying Gravity’. The influences of other stage productions are also present; Jason Mraz feature ‘Bad Idea’ draws comparisons to Rent’s famous duet ‘Take Me Or Leave Me’. Mraz’s two features on the album fit in well, his stellar vocal range complimenting Bareilles’ perfectly. The duo call and respond fluently, working fluidly together and producing two beautiful pop tracks in the aforementioned ‘Bad Idea’ and ‘You Matter To Me’. Their musical relationship fits well to that of the characters they play, Mraz filling the role of the doctor with which the titular waitress follows a brief affair.
Lyrically, the album is relatively simplistic as expected for the genre, but plays it well. Bareilles relishes in the delivery of sorrow in ‘You Matter To Me’, giving a nostalgic and emotional performance through lines such as “I could find the meaning of life in those sad eyes”. Metaphor and indirect prose is not applied heavily here, the album instead favouring pure and honest language. And honestly, the direct approach fits the story well.
All in all, Sara Bareilles does not break significant new ground with Songs from Waitress, but has still created another in a solid streak of piano rock albums. Lead single ‘She Used to be Mine’ is the true jewel in the album’s crown, painting broad and minimal musical strokes that truly highlight Bareilles’ talents.
By Jowan Mead