Review: Sia – This is Acting

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A sophisticated and complex album that shows the diversity and strength of Sia's vocal and lyrical capabilities. A must listen.

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Sia’s idea is a novel one. An album comprised of songs written for others artists, that other artists rejected. ‘Alive’ could have belonged to Adele, or ‘Bird Set Free’ to Rihanna- but alas, they now belong to Sia. We are, however, very lucky they do. This is Acting is, without doubt, one of the best albums released in recent years. It combines emotional power-ballads, with fast paced tunes and thought-provoking lyrics to create quite the musical experience.

The album’s lead single ‘Alive’ kicks the whole thing off very nicely. The single, which has hints of a slower-paced ‘Chandelier’, exposes the stunning vocal ability of Sia. The iconic voice crack features here to great effect. You get a real sense of vulnerability within the song and then almost feel yourself building emotionally. The same is also true of ‘Bird Set Free’ which passes the message of letting go of life’s troubles and compliments ‘Alive’ fantastically. The two songs together serve as an extremely powerful opening to the album and stamp Sia’s authority on the market. Even in the face of Adele or Beyoncé, Sia’s vocal range would find little competition.

The album, admittedly, could have become a bit dull if all 14-songs followed this format and this was the problem with her last album 1000 Forms of Fear. But this is avoided here with the tracks ‘Cheap Thrills’ and ‘Move Your Body’. These provide the equivalent of light comic relief in any action-adventure film. Their catchy beats, combined with Sia’s unique vocal tone, make for excellent listening. ‘Cheap Thrills’ specifically strikes a chord with the student population as it dismisses the notion that money is required to enjoy yourself. The next track ‘Reaper’ then mixes both the power-ballad and dance beat to provide a rather unique track, and one that has gained a lot of critical attention. It almost sends you into a trance-like experience. This, indeed, is the power of Sia’s music is general. She manages to put across serious messages with an undeniably unique and mesmerising voice.

Another benefit of the album – amongst many others I have listened too – is at no point do I find myself thinking that any song is just a filler. Each one contributes to making the album as a whole and they all fit together like a jigsaw to create the final picture. ‘Unstoppable’ creates the same aura as ‘Alive’ but in a more forceful style and with more vigour, turning a previous vulnerability in to a pertinent declaration. In half an album we have gone from “I’m still breathing” to “I’m invincible”. Sia transforms and you transform alongside her. Up next is ‘House on Fire’. Some have compared this to ‘Fire Meets Gasoline’ from the previous album but this is unfair. This new track is much more upbeat and exposes the optimistic possibilities of life as Sia declares that “she wants to keep burning”. ‘Fire Meets Gasoline’ regards the possible explosiveness of relationships but here the tone is much more positive. What this also shows is the progression of Sia’s attitude in her music. 1000 Forms of Fear is overwhelmingly about vulnerability and escape (‘Chandelier’, ‘Elastic Heart’ and ‘Big Girls Cry’ are all perfect examples) but with This is Acting there is a real sense of fulfilment and completeness. Here you are assured that any helplessness in ‘Alive’ has been reassured.

The album completes itself with a few more serene tracks: ‘One Million Bullets’ (which is the only track on the album not originally wrote for another artist) and ‘Summer Rain’ which relax and appeal to the older-style Sia that fewer people will be familiar with. ‘Summer Rain’ could be described as a feel-good track which is rare for Sia, and completes this emotional progression that is developed throughout the album. This is solidified by ‘Sweet Design’ which is quite a quirky track for Sia and might well be described as an adaption of her unique style to a club or dance song. The result is fantastic and marks an emotional completeness.

Sia does not want to make it easy for the listener though, and the final track – ‘Space Between’ – poses a challenge to everything that has come before. It takes on a sharp beat that is almost hard to listen to and exposes Sia’s vocal capacities in a defenceless way. Sia says that she feels like “a prisoner” and that the “space between is deafening”. What space this is remains ambiguous. Is it the space between herself and her fans that she preserves by refusing to show her face? Or is it the inner battle she faces with herself? Either way, the listener is reminded quite forcefully at the end of the album that the optimism and hope that the album has shown could be a shadow or a mask. The album’s title has been presumed to just refer to the fact that all but one of the tracks were intended for other artists but now Sia ‘acts’ them instead. But I think the title might mean something deeper. Perhaps Sia wanted to create an idea that depressives constantly try to paint a positive picture but This is Acting. The final song perhaps then shows that some things are inescapable.

What I have shown is that this album is a musical journey, filled with a diverse range of beats, lyrics and themes that all display Sia’s unique vocal range and tone, as well as her diverse capabilities. Too often we see vain and un-substantial albums. This Is Acting is a prime example of how music should be done.

This Is Acting is out now via Monkey Records. 

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About Author

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Philosopher and Historian and major pop-fan. You can find me listening to most pop in the charts (Beyoncé and Sia are most certainly goddesses), as well as some modern jazz and classical and enjoing the occasional trip to the theatre. I'm also interested in the repurcussions of the representation of sex in modern-day media! And I might be a fan of the X Factor. Sorry, I can't help it...

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