I really became an avid fan of Sia Furler (or ‘Sia’ as she is usually known) after her 2014 release 100 Forms of Fear, and I was also particularly excited for this album due to its concept. This Is Acting is a compilation album of songs written by Sia (with a few helping hands, of course) originally intended for other artists, but the songs were rejected for one reason or another. With such big names such as Adele co-writing, and Kanye West producing as well as helping to write one of the songs on the album, it looked promising. Although, the pre-release excitement was slightly tainted due to the fact that 6 of the 12 songs (on the non-deluxe version) had already been released prior to the album’s official release date. I understand that promotion is necessary, but can artists please stop doing this? Having half of the songs already out to the public can make things a little lacklustre and disappointing. I was nonetheless excited when the watermarked stream arrived in my inbox.
‘Bird Set Free’ is the opening song on This Is Acting, and it is an extremely strong, powerful, and emotional ballad. This is something we have come to expect from Sia, and it does not disappoint. However, the lyrics sometimes become overpowered by the instrumental, and Sia’s backing vocals become distracting to the overall production. The intensely personal opening (“Clipped wings, I was a broken thing / Had a voice, had a voice but I could not sing”) gets forgotten as the song progresses, with “bird set free” and “I don’t wanna die” prevailing instead. It’s a shame here, when the song could have been so much more if the overall production had been toned down.
does this album show that Sia has come as far as she can go?
‘Alive’, a song rejected by both Adele and Rihanna, is a difficult one to get to grips with. All that seems memorable to me is the constant “I’m Alive”, and not much else. I can’t help but feel that Furler’s formulaic approach to ballad writing has been somewhat exhausted by now, as brilliant as they are. While it’s not an appalling song, it’s a testament to it’s lack of impact and originality if I say that I could write this same review about ‘One Million Bullets’, ‘Unstoppable’, ‘House on Fire’, and ‘Broken Glass’.
The flaws within ‘Move Your Body’ are not so much the song or it’s lyrics, but instead the way in which Sia performs. With the song originally intended for Shakira, she attempts to imitate a Colombian voice (a near impossible task, as her usual raspy and distinctive voice goes missing). While ‘Footprints’ is a song that builds and builds, nothing ever comes of it; ’Sweet Design’ also. It is a completely different style to anything that we have heard from Sia before, and possibly proves that there is no need to change something that isn’t broken. The fast lyrics and obtrusive beat more often-that not make the lyrics completely incomprehensible, ringing familiar bells of Jessie J’s ‘Ain’t Been Done’. But Jessie J also has the attitude, perhaps even the audacity to pull off a song like that – something which Sia does not, with her trademark wig hiding her away.
‘Cheap Thrills’ is the best track from the album. It’s one of those songs that encourages you to get out of bed in the morning, or gets you hyped for a Friday Arena (other nightclubs are available). The catchy drum hook is something that is simply irresistible to move to, making it easy to picture sung by its intended audience of Rihanna. Furler most definitely rocks it. Another rejected masterpiece from Rihanna’s ANTi, ‘Reaper’ is among the best, with profound and emotionally charged lyrics (“You came to take me away, So close I was to heaven’s gates, But no baby, no baby, not today”). It is worth mentioning that my enthusiasm for the song was recently dampened by Sia herself confessing that it was simply a “fun song”, and she was “not emotionally attached to it”. Perhaps this isn’t the best thing to declare before the release of a new album, Ms. Furler.
I hoped this album would bring something new to the table, as the compilation consists entirely of songs originally written for other artists. Instead, it seems much the same as 100 Forms of Fear. It’s full of same-y ballads, and when Furler does try and break away from the norm, such as in ‘Sweet Design’, it simply doesn’t work. At times, the entire album just feels like a continuous, similar drone – does this album show that Sia has come as far as she can go? I guess only time will tell.