2014 was a fantastic year for Australian singer/songwriter Sia. She released a number one album (1000 Forms of Fear) and scored two hit singles, most notably the Grammy-nominated “Chandelier.” Less than two years later, Sia returns with another new album, This Is Acting. There’s a catch though – most of the songs written by the songwriter were intended for other artists, not Sia herself. That said, sometimes Sia sounds superb and other times song and singer isn’t a perfect match.
“Bird Set Free” kicks the album off respectably. A soaring pop ballad, “Bird Set Free” shows off Sia’s powerhouse pipes. The best moment is the memorable, empowering chorus and the post-chorus, which is characterized by Sia’s emotional oohs. “Alive” follows soundly, with the cracks and nuances of Sia’s voice capturing the ear’s attention. Hard to top opening salvo “Bird Set Free,” but many facets of “Alive” make it stand out: the chorus is expectedly gargantuan and there are some great production touches.
The script for “One Million Bullets” is prototypical, but like the duo preceding it, the chorus is definitely high-flying. Give Sia credit for utilizing her lower vocal register on the verse and contrasting it with her upper register pipes on the chorus. All in all, “One Million Bullets” is successful.
“Move Your Body” speeds the tempo up, amplifying the ‘fun’ aspect of This Is Acting. Percussively, the groove is as sick as the come on the chorus, definitely a selling point. While the chorus is heavy (arguably overproduced or overwrought dynamically), the energy from Sia is appreciated. Would this have been better for one of the artists Sia intended it for? Likely, but give credit where credit is due.
“I put my armor on, show you how strong I am.” Sigh, “Unstoppable” returns This Is Acting to more empowering fare, evidenced further as Sia spiritedly sings, “I’m unstoppable / I’m a Porsche with no brakes / I’m invincible / yeah, I win every single game.” Overall it’s nothing new, good but not transcendent or awe-inspiring. The synthetic brass synth is a great touch towards the end, for all the production nerds.
“Cheap Thrills” was intended for Rihanna, something apparent to the listener from the jump. With a dash of reggae and dance music, it’s an interesting song but perhaps not a surefire hit. “Reaper,” another reject from Rihanna is stronger and one of the songs that is more memorable from this particular album. Sia’s vocals are assertive and the energy is present from start to finish. The chorus rules here.
Following “Reaper” is quite arduous, in regards to This Is Acting as a whole. “House On Fire” attempts to keep things fiery (no pun intended), but it just doesn’t have the same oomph. Sure, one has to love the intensity of the drum programming on the chorus and the references to fire, but this one’s so-so at best.
“Footprints” keeps the percussive groove alive and well, but similarly doesn’t achieve that memorable, rousing fever pitch. Calling “Footprints” generic would be harsh, but it is that “been there, done that” song. “Sweet Design” is shocking, and not in a particularly good way. This definitely doesn’t suit Sia and it’s easy to see why it would be a hard sell to others. One pro is its energy, but otherwise, “Sweet Design” is manic – all over the place.
Penultimate cut “Broken Glass” has the right idea to slow the tempo, but Sia’s vocals on the verses sound lethargic, and the song itself lacks memorability. Perhaps she deserves a shout out for the key changes, but they aren’t bombastic enough to propel “Broken Glass” to the next level. “Space Between” concludes the album enigmatically; it restores some of the magic.
How does This Is Acting stack up? The album has its moments – namely “Bird Set Free,” “Alive” and “Reaper” – but many times it sounds as if the songs weren’t meant specifically for Sia. That may be crazy asserting that the songwriter’s own songs don’t always suit the songwriter, but that is indeed the reality on this record. Ultimately this is a good/average album, but not a truly great one.
Favorites: “Bird Set Free,” “Alive” and “Reaper”
Sia • This Is Acting • RCA • Release Date: 1.29.16