For a faceless woman, Sia has sure built up a household name of a career.
Originally a talented songstress from Australia, Sia Furler soon became more globally known thanks to her efforts as a songwriter and a vocalist, eventually becoming a lyrically-talented powerhouse songwriter courting the likes of Rihanna, Adele, Beyonce, Kanye West, and other musical firmaments. She proved she could write a hit song or a dozen, eventually electing to return to singing herself with the Rihanna Rih-ject ‘Chandelier’, her now signature tune, but elected to hide her face in performances and videos, so that the music could become the focus.
Her new album This Is Acting, comprised of songs that more prominent acts rejected, but which Furler was determined to release herself, is akin to an anti-covers concept album; the songs are Sia’s own, but are inherently rejected. Does this work as an album, not only as a concept, but as a collection of tunes from the most in-demand pop songwriter of the moment?
The album plays more of a greatest hits that never were – the addictive electropop of ‘Move Your Body’ is the best song Shakira never recorded with its stadium-ready calls and pounding, pulsing beats, while lead single ‘Alive’ is classic Adele, with the astonishing vocal acrobatics and classic soul-pop feel that embues the latter’s work. Sia’s own working relationship with Rihanna is prominent throughout – Furler channels the Bajan superstar’s drawls for the seemingly custom-made pre-party anthem ‘Cheap Thrills’.
This Is Acting is, by its very nature, full of the ghosts of songs that never were, resurrected and transformed by their host – ‘Footprints’, a gospel-inspired pop song sings to high heaven of Beyonce’s more spiritual tracks in recent years, while Sia’s own knack of pop hooks and her template of inspiring thumpers reappears in the form of ‘Unstoppable’, a catchy yet copy-and-paste empowerment anthem that Katy Perry, Demi Lovato, Kelly Clarkson, or any other popstar could have made their own.
Appropriately, the darkest track on the album is the sole own Sia wrote and kept wholly for herself – ‘One Million Bullets’ is as cinematic and dramatic as anything on ‘A Million Forms of Fear’ and is immediately striking when played within the context of the rest of the much poppier album. Fortunately, Sia’s flourishes and variety experience a solid showcase here – ‘Sweet Design’ is an ebulliently bonkers tune that is bright to a fault, while ‘House On Fire’ walks the tightrope between intimate tune and strident ballad.
This album is not, in some ways, a true Sia album – no songs here were meant to be hers, save for the forementioned ‘One Million Bullets’, and it works as a greatest hits that never was. Yet, it also is an incredibly brilliant showcase for Sia – her adaptable, versatile voice shines, transforming herself into a number of guises as she channels the original vocalists’ ranges, and her songwriting skills are as nuanced as we’ve seen for modern pop tunes. This might not be an album to everyone’s taste – it isn’t consistent by any means and Furler veers wildly at her worst – but this is an exercise in sheer pop brilliance and the truest modern example that another popstar’s trash is another’s treasure.