[Originally published in GoldenPlec]
Sia Furler’s rise to the top of the pops has been like none other. Since the early ’90s the Australian singer has been working as a recording artist: to the recently initiated, it might come as a surprise that her latest LP This Is Acting is in fact her seventh. Indeed, Furler had intended to retire from life as a recording artist back in 2011, to focus instead on a career in songwriting. She was upset, then, when her song ‘Titanium’ (intended for Alicia Keys), was picked up by David Guetta and propelled her, unwillingly, into the very public stratosphere.
It explains all the anonymity of the oversized blonde wigs that regaled the promotion campaign for her last record, 2014’s 1000 Forms of Fear. That album was lyrically an insight into addiction and mental health, all delivered through her distinctively hard-hitting vocals. However, for all the positively sublime singles (‘Chandelier’ and ‘Elastic Heart’ in particular spring to mind), there was a formulaic approach on display that arguably started to wear thin when listening to the album as a whole.
The same could be said of This Is Acting (titled as such because all but one of these songs were originally written for and rejected by other artists). It is unfair, perhaps, but it’s difficult to not spend much of the record’s duration wondering how the songs would have fared if delivered by their intended vocalists: these are cast-offs from Adele, Beyoncé and Rihanna. There is no doubt that most of these songs are fantastic exemplars of what Sia does best: epic, soaring electro-pop with uplifting, empowered vocals are all on display from opening track ‘Bird Set Free’ and onwards.
The one track that was not intended for someone else is ‘One Million Bullets’, and it is a gorgeous but schmaltzy ballad of piano-laden swooning romance (with refrains of “Under the moonlight, under your rolling gaze / I know that I’d take one million bullets babe / Yeah, one million bullets can come my way”).
And “schmaltzy” is perhaps a telling word to use, because there is something a bit cheesy on this album, and one has to wonder how well this is going to date. ‘Move Your Body’ is already an unpleasant reminder of the worst of the past few years’ Avicii-style brash EDM, but is, thankfully, followed by the gentler, anthemic ‘Unstoppable’.
‘Cheap Thrills’ is a superbly fun, twinkling, tropical little number that recalls a lithe Soca number (you can tell it was meant for Rihanna). Another song intended for the Bajan star was co-written and produced with Kanye “greatest artist of all time” West; indeed, ‘Reaper’ has some hip hop-style beats and wavy synths, but considering the team behind it, the track isn’t actually that striking.
The highlight is perhaps ‘Sweet Design’ which samples Sisqo’s ‘Thong Song’ (of course). It was meant for Beyoncé, and is the freshest track on the album by a mile: it isn’t rehashing that same epic sound; instead, it’s just a fast-paced banger.
Sia’s powerful voice remains astounding, as does her ability to create some guaranteed pop hits; it’s just a shame that it’s an exercise in acting, rather than songs intended for herself. There are hints of some enticing pop here, but they can be drowned out a little with formulaic songs that are already on the verge of becoming dated.