Reviewing Sia’s Latest Album: This Is Acting
by Ellie Duffield
Sia’s career is steeped in tenacity. She left labels, fired managers, and experimented with the dynamic of her sound over and over. Famously, she wrote some pretty successful pop songs (see Rihanna’s ‘Diamonds’, Ne-Yo’s ‘Let Me Love You’ and Rita Ora’s ‘Radioactive’) – all the while pushing through both physical and mental health difficulties and battling addiction. And you sure can hear this tenacity in her singing – Here is the voice of a woman who wont stop pushing for what she wants to achieve.
‘This is Acting’ is Sia’s seventh studio album. Her debut release came out way back when in ’97 – at this point she was providing lead vocals for an acid jazz group. Since then, she hopped between labels, managers, and genres – she created a jazz and soul record, provided backing vocals for Jamiroquai as well as leading vox for Zero 7, and has written tracks for Rihanna, Christina Aguilara, Adele, Ne-Yo, and Beyonce. (Casual.) Word has it, she can write a pop song in 14 minutes.
Yes, Sia is a songwriter, and she wanted it to stay this way after releasing five albums and feeling more satisfied with writing, rather than performing. But to her surprise, David Guetta wanted Sia rather than Alicia Keys to sing on 2011’s club banger ‘Titanium’. And Sia took things from there. She rocketed to global success with her sixth album ‘1000 Forms of Fear’, featuring scorching chart smasher ‘Chandelier’ and bittersweet ‘Elastic Heart’.
The fascinating knowledge which frames her seventh album, ‘This is Acting’ is the fact that Sia wrote these songs for other artists – hence its title. Yet there is a generous handful of songs on this collection that I cannot imagine sung by anybody but her. She indulges in power play, yet remains vulnerable with her lyrics – many of the tracks describe the fight with personal struggles with mental health and drug addiction.
What Sia delivers on ‘This is Acting’ is melodrama. Album opener ‘Bird Set Free’ sets this tone, with string sections, soaring melodies and backing vox aplenty. The initial release from the album ‘Alive’ is a track which showcases Sia’s striking vocals and distinctive way of shaping them. It was intended for Adele, but after her rejection, the production was multiplied for Sia’s style. It’s a track which marks her right out as its performer as well as creator.
Although in their essence these songs undoubtedly do stick to a mainstream pop formula, many push with an edge. Tracks such as ‘Move Your Body’ and ‘Unstoppable’ ooze an empowering, ‘let the good times roll’ kinda vibe, with their pounding beats, glistening production and, obviously, commanding vocal spirt.
There is a hoard of mainstream pop songs which centre around the satisfaction the male gaze. Yes, there are love songs on this album. But much of Sia’s work also centres around exploring the self and the explanation of personal actions. ‘Reaper’ is an upbeat, bouncy pop song, but the title alludes to a more serious and personal subject matter. ‘Don’t come for me today/ I’m feeling good, gotta savour it’ – after this bridge Sia bounds into the chorus, delighting in casting off the shackles of her troubles, and revelling in a new-found love of enjoying many of life’s pleasures: drinks to drink, men to hold, and dancing in the breeze.
On a more shallow note, my personal highlight is ‘Cheap Thrills’. Sia doesn’t need dollar bills, only cheap thrills – so long as she can feel the beat and keep dancing. It’s the perfect precursor for a raucous night out, getting you in the mood to party on down.
Unfortunately many tracks on ‘This is Acting’, (namely track 08 and onwards) are a little bland – for example, ‘House on Fire’ although passionate lyrically is at its core a cliched love song. Sia loses the personal touch on tracks such as ‘Footprints’ and ‘Broken Glass. But after all, she didn’t write these tracks with herself in mind. I guess I inevitably warm to those tracks which were not just written by, but written for Sia herself.
I rate: 3/5
Top tracks: ‘Cheap Thrills’, ‘Reaper’, ‘Alive’.