Sia Furler was a major force in the world of pop music long before she exploded onto the scene with 2014’s mega-hit “Chandelier.” Before the now iconic blonde bob, before the music video featuring Maddie Ziegler, Sia was cranking out hits for artists like Rihanna, Flo Rida, David Guetta. So much of her image has been crafted around the woman behind the music, that when she thrust herself onto the main stage, one wondered if she had what it took to become a lasting presence and not just a flash in the pan. Her brilliant sixth album, 1000 Forms of Fear was recorded and released to simply release her from her recording soundtrack, and put an end to any idea that she was going to be one of the major pop girls. The rest is history.
“If it’s not broke, don’t fix it” is probably the phrase Sia and her creative team have uttered a thousand times concerning her creative process. And why would they? “Chandelier” alone garnered several major Grammy nominations, while her efforts for other artists have saw them returning in hopes of more hits (hi Rihanna). Sia broke out in a way that fellow songwriters turned singers Ester Dean and Bonnie McKee are still trying to replicate.
Enter This Is Acting, the follow up to the songwriting chanteuse’s most successful album of her career thus far. The stakes are high, as they often are in the world of pop; “Chandelier” and “Elastic Heart” were great, very successful songs that really established her as a singer, not just a writer. Lead single “Alive” isn’t as bouncy, or even as lyrically deep as “Chandelier,” is, but it more than matches that song’s dramatic heights. The signature crack in her voice heard adds so much personality, and depth to what could have been a simple song in the hands of a less capable singer. And while the song was reportedly meant for Adele’s “25,” I’m happy she ultimately passed on the record. As great of a singer as Adele is, she couldn’t do what Sia does on “Alive.”
“Cheap Thrills,” originally intended for Rihanna’s ANTi, is perhaps the closest relative to “Chandelier” but finds Sia simply partying, rather than partying to escape a looming depression. “Unstoppable” sounds as if it was an earlier incantation of Demi Lovato’s “Confident” possessing the same, brassy bravura with even more of a sucker punch. “Reaper,” another song meant for Rihanna, is perhaps the best single that never was. Tailor made for radio (it was originally a Rihanna song, after all), it’s light but possesses a distinctive vocal performance that sets it apart from the likes of Selena Gomez, who choose mood over voice. However, the only song that truly feels like a Sia song besides “Alive” is the album’s closer, “Space Between.” The album needed more songs like these, in my opinion.
Perhaps the biggest drawback of This Is Acting, is that so much of the story has become about the other artists, rather than Sia herself. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a bad album, but when held in comparison to her last, it’s certainly the least interesting of the two. There is an interesting angle in giving new life to these songs that were being sent to the cutting room floor, and what Sia does with them is ultimately more interesting than the songs and their history. She spent so much time subverting the mainstream, which is what made her interesting.
I get that’s the point of the album; By recording these songs meant for Beyoncé, Adele and Rihanna, Sia has the rare opportunity to play several different characters over the course of a big, hook heavy pop album. I guess it’s just that I would rather hear more of the Sia I hear on “Alive,” and the Sia who swore that she was going to swing from the chandelier, and live like tomorrow didn’t exist, because ultimately that is the most interesting story.
***Essential Tracks: “Alive,” “Reaper,” “House On Fire,” “Space Between”