Depth Of Field (EMI)
Sarah Blasko is often at her best, and always at her most intriguing, when emotionally/physically displaced and more than a little bit tense. Discomfort is her most comfortable creative zone, and her most rewarding musical environment.
It may sound counter-intuitive but in fact it makes perfect sense. For many years her gigs were a clash/melding of her social awkwardness and a strong desire to be a performer, which then expressed itself in gestures and looks that cried “look at me” and simultaneously “don’t look at me”.
And even now, after countless shows, a solo tour and strong audience responses, there’s something of an edge to each performance for her, and therefore for us, that keeps everyone nearer the front than the back of the seat. That keeps us wholly engaged in other words.
Within those songs she has always had the temptation – actually, inclination - to keep everything hidden, pitted against a need to be truthful lyrically; to apply everything generally while speaking personally. There’s a line on this record that says a lot: “come on, won’t you read my mind, read my mind,” she says as if it might even work.
And musically the swing back and forth from terse to (something like) voluble, from plangent weightiness to (something like) buoyant has been a constant push me/pull you, both between albums, and between songs on each album.
To say then that Depth Of Field is an album which rarely feels settled internally (even as it sounds complete and unified externally), which probes areas of emotional uncertainty within otherwise settled relationships, which questions values but often returns to the verities of commitments, which feels attractive on top but constantly tense on its edges, is to say that it is Sarah Blasko at her best.
She may well sing “never let me go/I’m far from perfect/I’ll admit the crime and I’ll do the time/Just don’t ever let me go”, in one song (Never Let Me Go) and implore “Don’t send me off into the world/Into the rain, the heat and snow/Cos I don’t need another one” in a different track (Another), but the Blasko we get here has been discombobulated by disappointment in another, or others.
Who? Or what? Well, as if she’s going to say. All that’s clear is she’s going to “Rebuild a confidence/Return to your defence/To where I was before”.
This sense of being thrown out of synch, or slowly recreating the world into something acceptable after being thrown out, is reflected in the muted, synth-based musical landscape Blasko (who produced it) and collaborators have crafted.
As Never Let Me Go progresses, you don’t notice the ratcheting tension until there’s a rapid escalation into (and then a quick retreat from) a kind of controlled hysteria; Making It Up, with Blasko taking on another (male?) persona, sees her almost surly in the opening verses, and the orchestral/guitar punches are solid hits; and Read My Mind, where the joys of having in your arms a life you have brought forth are the strongest feelings, there’s a tug of war between romantic and nervous tones.
Essentially, musically and lyrically, she – we? - are never really at ease.
In the first song, Phantom, a low bubbling cruise that is a muted cousin of Everybody Wants To Rule The World, Blasko is in the temporal but more than hints at the spiritual. Going from references to childhood religion where destiny was profound and where another force “Laid your hands upon me/When I was a child/Pushed me under water/Planted in the ground”, she makes common ground between the completion of human connection and the connection with something higher/other.
“And when you’re hear I’m found … I’m gonna fill my lungs with you, my phantom heartbeat“.
But immediately, in A Shot, built on a similar rhythmic pulse but with some slashes of guitar as punctuation, the question of what you give away when you give your trust – and your heart - is raised. It’s up to you whether the territory is personal, spiritual, or maybe even contractual.
“You meant no wrong when you walked out of here/But you stole my memories from my family … And you expect me to believe you only wanted what was best for me?”
The opening gambit then makes the territory ahead clear. However, you might think that by album’s end, especially coming after Read My Mind’s relatively more eyes-up feel in the penultimate track, there might be some clear resolution. Some satisfaction even.
And in a sense, with her resolving that even as “we’re always hurting, failing, the ones that we know we should love the most”, every path “leads me back to you”, there is some clarity.
But remember, Blasko isn’t really comfortable unless there’s some metaphorical pebble in that shoe, and Leads Me Back carries in its piano chords and desert air atmosphere a final, ambiguous, note of uncertainty. One more little prickle on the skin.