When listening to Sia’s new album, there are two things to consider. First, it is an album compiled almost entirely of songs that she wrote for others. Second, Sia is completely aware of this fact, which can be explained by the title of the album, “This Is Acting.” As Sia explained herself, “They are songs I was writing for other people, so I didn’t go in thinking ‘this is something I would say.’ ” It sounds almost gimmicky, because if there is one thing that Sia is known for, it is for writing and performing powerful pop hits that sound both universal and personal and are always incredibly catchy. So with an album of mostly-rejected songs Sia wrote for other artists, much is up in the air in terms of what can be expected from it.
Despite listening to an album compiled of songs that might have a more distanced nature than Sia’s previous work, diving into the opening track, “Bird Set Free,” proves that impersonal does not mean forgettable. “Bird Set Free” begins with a beautiful, minor-key piano ballad which quickly showcases Sia’s powerful vocals before going deep with a more complex, percussion-powered accompaniment. It’s a pretty empowering song, with chorus lines such as “I don’t care if I sing off key, / I find myself in my melodies, I sing for love, I sing for me” penetrating ears of listeners with their resoluteness. If anyone else sang these lines, they would sound unauthentic, but the conviction Sia puts into her words is convincing enough. Funnily enough, it was rejected from Pitch Perfect 2 in favor of “Flashlight,” also co-written by Sia.
The second song on the album, “Alive,” was released this past November as a single. The theme about living vicariously and rising from the darkness emerges, reoccuring through most of the album. Plucky indie-pop synths and tambourine-speckled beats pervade the track, giving the song an overall feeling of a traditional Sia song, where her strong vocals come through.
Sia loves to employ the use of well-oiled metaphors in her songs, and “One Million Bullets,” also a single released in the fall last year, showcases her songwriting flair with lyrics professing the lengths to which she would go for her lover. With so many already powerful metaphor-driven songs from her previous album “1000 Forms of Fear,” such as “Elastic Heart”, “Fire Meet Gasoline”, and “Straight For The Knife”, “One Million Bullets” pales in comparison. This is the case for other tracks on “This Is Acting”, such as “House on Fire” and “Broken Glass”, which all have skillfully catchy production but sound a bit too generic for the true Sia fan. “Footprints” is an exception. It’s got an admirable play on the “footprints in the sand” concept and showcases Sia’s ability to write a solid pop hit.
There are two noticeable dance-track songs on this album, “Move Your Body” is reminiscent of one of the latest dance songs from Selena Gomez’s recent album “Revival,” and also “Cheap Thrills” has a tropical-house tinged beat that sounds like it could have been sung by a younger Rihanna. They’re both fun songs and could definitely end up on a house-party inspired Spotify playlist.
“Reaper”, a song produced by Kanye West, is by far one of the brighter gems on this album. With a booming bass and heavy claps beat signature of Kanye’s earlier work and Sia’s carefree, death-defying lyrics, “Reaper” is a satisfyingly complete song, and it’s a shame Rihanna rejected it. “Sweet Design” has a gritty, early-Beyoncé inspired sound and contributes a bit of spice to the mostly serious-themed album.
Overall, Sia continues to make her venture into electro and indie-pop with “This Is Acting.” Looking at the album holistically, it’s not a bad album by any means. If this were released two or three years ago, more attention could have been given to it. However, with so many memorable pop albums released in late 2015, such as Selena Gomez’s “Revival” and Demi Lovato’s “Confident,” Sia Furler’s new album falls just slightly short of sticking around as it helps to ring in the beginning of the new year. But don’t take it too seriously. After all, as Sia herself said of “This Is Acting,” “It’s more like play-acting. It’s fun.”