Is Sia acting? Or is the act Sia?
Sia is a force in the music industry that very few can reckon with. She is not only a superstar in her own right (‘Chandelier’, ‘Breathe Me’, ‘Elastic Heart’), a collaborative success (‘Titanium’ [David Guetta], ‘Wild Ones’ [Flo Rida], ‘Guts Over Fear’ [Eminem] but also has written for some of the biggest names in pop… Britney Spears, Beyonce, Rihanna, Jennifer Lopez, Ne-Yo, Katy Perry, Kylie Minogue and many, many more. The focus of her new record ‘This Is Acting’ is completely that… songs initially written for other artists who have rejected them.
The album opens with ‘Bird Set Free’, a highly, dramatic number that seemingly suggests a domestic relationship… sonically the song rings similarities to the closing track ‘Dressed in Black’ of previous album ‘1000 Forms of Fear’.
The dramatic sound continues onto first single ‘Alive’ (originally written for Adele), ‘One Million Bullets’ (which feels like a track that Alex da Kidd would have used in 2010), ‘Unstoppable’, which has this strange electronic vibe to it as she shrieks “I'll put my armour on, i'll show you that I am… unstoppable” and ‘House on Fire’, which has a familiar piano chord running throughout the chorus.
There are three unique moments on ‘This Is Acting'; ‘Move Your Body’ is the first… if you want an idea of how it sounds, think Shakira’s ‘Dare (La La La)’ integrated with Rita Ora’s ‘Radioactive’ (also written by Sia) merged with David Guetta’s (feat. Sia & Fetty Wapp) ‘Bang Your Head’. It’s an absolute corker of a song that was clearly written for Shakira, as you have to double take the vocals in the verses as their voices are almost identical.
Another wild card is ‘Sweet Design’ that samples ‘Thong Song’ by Sisqo and really, weirdly works… even with lyrics like “when you got an ass like my sweet design”. The song is the shortest on the album, but certainly packs a punch, even if there are hints of unwanted demo from it. Finally, ‘Cheap Thrills’ feels like it shouldn’t work, with it’s tongue-in-chic lyrics and children shouting “I love cheap thrills”, but it feels really cool and really current.
We enter the mid-tempo territory with ‘Footprints’ , as Sia sings with much softer vocals in the verses and belts out “only two footprints in the sand… two footprints, your footprints in the sand”, which was allegedly written for Beyonce, but feels like it would fit nicely on the Lea Michele record 'Cannonball'.
Sonically, the Kanye West produced ‘Reaper’ falls under the mid-tempo banner though he does divert with some electronic sounds blasting throughout.
The final two tracks are both surprises, ‘Broken Glass’ is the best track on the record, without a doubt. If the lyric “don't give up, it's just young lovers' romance” doesn’t get you, the key change will. The closing track ‘Space Between’ is the most subdued track on the album. It features a very low key production, and whilst still maintains a sense of drama, it has the sincerity of David Guetta track (feat. Sia) ‘The Whisperer’.
‘This is Acting’ strangely feels like an altogether Sia album. It’s interesting how she considers the album as a bunch of tracks written for other artists whereas her voice seems more prominent on these tracks then ever before, sure there are moments where it’s evident the tracks were intended for someone else (‘Move Your Body’, ‘Sweet Design’, ‘Unstoppable’) but on the flip-side these songs feel like home to Sia.
The album is relatively dark and it's quite an idea that some tracks were considered for the likes of Beyonce, Rihanna and so on. It really questions the ideology of what exactly is a pop star? If all these songs were written for pop stars in mind, it would be really interesting to hear their take on the tracks because generally I can’t see anyone singing these songs except Sia.