Sia set the bar high last year with her hit “Chandelier.” A top-10 single, it peaked at number eight on the Billboard Hot 100 and dominated the airwaves in late 2014 to early 2015.
So you’ve probably heard of Sia – but you may not know that Sia was initially known for her songwriting rather than her singing. Although she had released songs prior to “Chandelier,” it wasn’t until last year that she established herself as a singer as well as a songwriter. Her powerful lyricism and her unique vocals are both showcased in her latest album, “This is Acting,” released on Jan. 29.
In an interview with New Musical Express, Sia revealed that she called the album “This is Acting” because “they are songs I was writing for other people… I didn’t go in thinking ‘this is something I would say.’ It’s more like play-acting.” But that’s not to say that the music is not genuine. With her instantly recognizable voice, Sia adds her own unique twist to the album. Just as her previous album “1,000 Forms of Fear” focused on Sia’s struggles with alcoholism and bipolar disorder, there is an obvious theme with “This is Acting.” That theme – liberation from fear and insecurity – resounds in each and every song.
The first two songs on the album, “Bird Set Free” and “Alive,” were supposed to be for Adele. It’s a fact made obvious from the first listen; the opening piano notes in “Bird Set Free” sound eerily similar to Adele’s hit “Someone Like You,” and the steady background tempo in “Alive” parallels “Rolling in the Deep.” Nonetheless, Sia makes the songs her own with her raspy timbre and strangely appealing voice cracks. Along with the songs “Unstoppable,” “Cheap Thrills,” “Reaper” and “Fist Fighting a Sandstorm,” the theme of confidence rings loud and clear. In “Unstoppable,” Sia describes herself as “a Porsche with no brakes,” and in “Reaper,” she sings to Death, “no baby, not today.”
The album mainly deals with Sia regaining confidence, but those who enjoyed her previous tracks about depression and harmful love will still find something to enjoy. The songs “House on Fire,” “Broken Glass” and “Space Between” are more similar to the songs on “1,000 Forms of Fear” and speak of breakdowns due to toxic relationships.
Although some songs tell depressing stories of unhealthy relationships, listeners will be uplifted by the tracks “One Million Bullets,” “Footprints” and “Summer Rain,” all of which are significant departures from Sia’s usual tunes about abuse. Sia sings about separating herself from toxicity and finding herself through healthier love. Her vocal fry – that trademark croakiness of her voice – comes through strongly on “One Million Bullets,” but not annoyingly so. It’s the only song on the album that was not written for another artist.
“Move Your Body” and “Sweet Design,” on the other hand, were clearly written for different singers (Shakira and Jennifer Lopez, respectively). Their fast-paced tempos and Latin dance rhythms contrast sharply with the rest of the album, making them seem out of place. It’s perhaps my only criticism for “This is Acting,” as the rest of the songs tie in nicely together to form a cohesive work of art.
Sia’s strong delivery and powerful lyrics provide listeners with a triumphant experience – as I listened to Sia describe herself overcoming insecurity and finding freedom, I felt liberated as well. If you enjoy intense vocals and well-written songs, “This is Acting” is definitely for you.
The album is available on iTunes for $9.99.