Australian singer and songwriter Sia Furler got a new lease on her career when she recorded and released Chandelier in 2014, a documentation of the excesses of a self-confessed party girl. Chandelier, powered by an unmissable video became the song that could and preceded Sia’s first full length solo album in 4 years, 1000 forms of fear.
Sia continues to work as a songwriter for hire to some of pop music’s biggest names and for her latest project, she reclaims songs written and pitched to these A-list artistes that did not quite make the cut and records them for herself. Thus This is Acting is exactly what the title suggests. Yes, it is Sia singing those big, anthemic choruses, but ultimately, the record is a performance comprising different acts, one that has her imitating and sounding like the artistes whom she would rather have recorded these songs in the first place.
This honesty and rising from the ashes of rejection narrative is in line with the Sia career trajectory. After hitting the depths of drug abuse as a performing artiste, Sia cleaned up her act and decided to say good bye to the fame monster, hence her recent refusal to show her face in public. Having been to hell and back, her lyrics choose to celebrate the resilience of the human spirit and Sia possesses just the perfect, booming voice to do justice to these arrangements of hers.
Back to This is Acting.
The combination of the album’s back story and Sia’s delivery makes the listening experience an interesting game of name which singer discarded what song. It is fun and helps to give the occasionally distant songs a sense of warmth. For the album’s opener, the very obvious Bird set free, the opening piano strings and sweeping arrangement point to one person alone, Adele. Indeed it is easy to place Adele in the milieu of the songs even if at the same time it is hard to imagine her screaming the overcooked lyrics, We hold on so tight/ but I don’t wanna die.
Adele is also the co-writer of Alive, TIA’s fabulous and high energy lead single which failed to make the cut for her sales juggernaut, 25. On Alive, Sia continues her motivational speak with lines like But I survived/ I’m still breathing/I’m alive. She does not recite these declarations of life so much as she screams them out, badgering her audience with the intensity and power of her vocals. On Alive, Sia screams the words, ‘’I’m alive’’ continually till her voice cracks in many different ways. But instead of letting up, she keeps going as if daring the voice to give up on her. Safe to say that it never does even when it appears she has stretched it beyond limit.
The history of the songs on TIA can occasionally be more interesting than the recorded material itself. Sia was once part of a boot camp of writers who put together material for Beyonce’s eponymous surprise 2014 album. The beauty pageant industry skewering record Pretty hurts made the final cut after Katy Perry missed out on it for failure to open her mail box on time. But the swirling Footprints, recorded by Sia for TIA is one of those that did not make the cut.
Sia has done some work with Rihanna in the past, most popular of which is the number one Billboard hit, Diamonds but tracks like Cheap thrills and Reaper (written with Kanye West) were recorded by Sia after they came back unrecorded by the Barbados born pop star. The guttural low growl on Move your body’s verses suggest why it was sent back to her. At best it is pop kitten Shakira from 5 years ago while Jennifer Lopez’s thin vocals would certainly have better suited Sweet design.
The themes of many of the songs are life affirming, motivational speak, as seen from her previous hits. The material is polished to a shiny pop gloss and sometimes, the emotion is swept out of them. Sometimes, there is hardly even any emotion present as she is merely writing and singing about her take on her clients’ lives.
The delivery is impeccable. Apart from her song writing, Sia’s biggest strength is her voice. Gifted with one of the biggest voices presently working in pop music, Sia is able to lift even the most humdrum of songs with her drop dead delivery.
TIA is less a full album than a collection of potential hit singles, united in their shared circumstances. The record doesn’t play as a cohesive unit but with the exception of a few artistes, no one makes albums the way they used to anymore anyways. In that regard, TIA is perfect for the present generation
– Wilfred Okiche (@DrWill20)