Surveying the current pop landscape, we find artists yearning to offer honest portrayals of battling insecurities, being torn apart internally by crappy self-talk and struggling on grief’s roller coaster.
But if pop isn’t your thing, Charles Bryant’s latest album, Unrequited, will give you all that and more without a bubbly beat or synths pumping out fake optimism. With just a guitar and piano on most tracks, this album is the ideal accompaniment for the season, as the temperature dips and the collective seasonal depression rises.
Bryant kicks off Unrequited with the pessimistic “This Is Getting Old”: “Some people live for fame and fortune, can’t ever have enough / Some sit and wait for heaven like pigs in a trough.” And if that doesn’t give you pause, what follows is “Broken,” in which Bryant details various ways people are shattered, from cancer to addiction to financial insecurity. While Bryant may be singing about loved ones, the lyrics cut deeper because you can put a name and face to those in your own lives battling the same conditions.
“The Game is Over” similarly pulls at the heartstrings, with some of the most hauntingly beautiful lines about divorce: “The game is over for me and you / With all that’s left of a love now gone / Four broken hearts and one broken home.”
Songs like these, characterized by bitterness and/or intense sadness, can get a bad rep sometimes because people want music to soothe them, like hot tea by a fire. And yes, marinating too long in woes can potentially devastate a person. But hearing another in their darkest hours reminds us of the universality of our emotions — even the ugly ones.
Bryant excels at writing stories of the bereft, and that’s arguably why his songs about love are so moving. Immense loss elevates love to an even higher value. On its own, “For the Rest of Mine” sounds like any other love song. But landing in the middle of this album, it resonates with more emotional depth: “From the first cry that we make to the last breath that we take / There’s a beauty far beyond our reckoning.”
Bryant actually wrote this from the perspective of his friend, Kenny Pipes, singing to his newborn grandson. Pipes’ son Nathan died by suicide, so at its core, this song is a tribute to two loves.
Poetically, Bryant closes the album with “Some Way,” a stark contrast to the opener, “This Is Getting Old.” He thoughtfully lays out the almost daily struggle for purpose we all face but are sometimes too scared to admit. And yet, Bryant concludes with a glimmer of hope to keep going because one day it’ll all make sense. That hope spills through long after the lyrics are done; the tempo picks up so much that by the end it feels like you’re racing toward the light at the end of the tunnel.