Producer: Greg Kurstin, Jesse Shatkin
Released: 29 January, 2016
Sia Furler’s rise to stardom is a story of unwanted fame: after her rather lengthy solo career, she decided to retire in 2010 to concentrate writing songs for other artists, and quickly gathered an impressive resume filled with names like Christina Aguilera, David Guetta, Flo Rida and Rihanna. However, she was still bound by her record deal, so she wrote 1000 Forms of Fear to free herself in order to continue writing songs for other people. When the album and especially the single “Chandelier” surprisingly skyrocketed on the charts, Sia was encouraged to continue writing her own music. So she took the songs she was writing for other people and recorded them herself, resulting in her seventh full-length studio album, the appropriately titled This Is Acting.
It is a truly interesting concept to see Sia perform songs written by her, but meant for others; a fascinating study in how a professional songwriter thinks how other artists think. It’s also fun to play detective and try to figure out for who she wrote which song, judging solely by the music. However, this angle has its glaring downsides as well. The most obvious one is that despite Sia’s incredible writing ability and charismatic performance the album lacks a certain cohesion – it often feels like a collection of songs meant for other artists. A collection of songs that people like Adele and Rihanna rejected, mind you. Fortunately, this is rarely evident: almost any track on the album could be lifted off as a single with hit potential. Massive “Alive” rivals “Chandelier” in its sheer operatic grandness; despite its unimaginative lyrics “House on Fire” manages to win you over with its piano riffs and its jumping beat; “Broken Glass” gets almost self-conscious with its repeated, cheesy Eurovision key changes.
Only “Footprints”, a textureless Beyoncé leftover with lyrics comprising of just about the stalest relationship imagery one can imagine, feels like it should have been scrapped completely. However, while Sia has repeatedly shown that mid-tempo empowerment anthems like “Bird Set Free” and “Unstoppable” are her specialty, the sheer amount of bombastic bangers back to back gets monotonous. This Is Acting is at its most entertaining when Sia breaks her usual formula: the europop dance floor anthem ”Move Your Body” mixes standard club beats with marching band snare hits, while the party tune “Cheap Thrills” uses infectious playground chant hooks to its utmost advantage. Panic! at the Disco should take notes. The album would benefit from more curveballs like this.
This Is Acting lacks the sincerity and cohesion of her previous album, but manages nevertheless showcase that even Sia’s rejected tracks are more potent than most of the better performances of her contemporaries.