Release Date: Jan 29, 2016
Record label: RCA
Genre(s): Pop, Pop/Rock, Adult Alternative Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Singer/Songwriter, Left-Field Pop
Reflecting her years as a music industry veteran, Sia Furler took a self-aware, practical approach to her return to the spotlight. She recorded her comeback album, 1000 Forms of Fear, to get out of her publishing contract; its acclaim led to This Is Acting, a collection of songs originally written for -- and rejected by -- clients such as Adele, Rihanna, and Beyoncé. As the album title hints, there's more going on here than just recycling.
Sia, née Sia Furler, has had quite the time since releasing 2014's 1000 Forms of Fear, releasing two absolute smash singles with "Chandelier" and "Elastic Heart" complete with beautifully choreographed music videos that probably increased the sales of blunt-cut blonde bob wigs worldwide. She claims that that record was put out to end a publishing deal: "I was planning to be a pop song writer for other artists. But my publishing deal was as an artist so I had to put one more album out," she told NME last February.
At the age of 40, Sia Furler has been through more career phases than her most of her contemporaries combined. By the time "Chandelier," one of the best Top 40 pop ballads of the decade, made her a global superstar, she had already been frontwoman of Australian '90s jazz-fusion band Crisp; vocalist for crossover lounge act Zero 7; and a modestly popular solo artist, whose 2006 song "Breathe Me" was featured in the finale of the HBO drama "Six Feet Under. " That's a lot, so when "Chandelier" took off, there was an excitement to seeing this relative underdog succeed so wildly in a traditionally sexist and ageist industry, all without bowing to cookie-cutter concepts of what pop stars should be.
Adele really blew it. That might be hard to believe with 15 million copies of 25 sold across the globe in just over two months, but the megastar let two of Sia Furler’s most bombastic and brilliant songs slip through her hands. Both kicked loose on Sia’s epically strange Saturday Night Live performance last November: the piano-driven “Bird Set Free” and pulsating battle cry of “Alive” (on which the British songstress shares a songwriting credit, along with Tobias Jesso Jr.).
Today, I finished my review of Sia’s seventh studio album This is Acting drawing the conclusion that the record suffered from a lack of distinct identity and that at times I felt like I could have been listening to any number of people, not specifically Sia. This, I said, was the record’s great weakness. In some spectacularly shoddy journalism I had managed to miss that this was kind of the point; a quick Google search before sending the review off rescued me.
No one turns up the volume like Sia. Whereas a decade and a half ago she could be found singing slow burning late night songs for Zero 7, here she is right at the other end of the scale, fronting music that does all its work in block capitals. This Is Acting – great title – really goes for the jugular. Its listeners simply HAVE to have a good time and a positive message, and Sia gives the impression her life depends on it.
It’s a funny thing, fame. For the Australian-born Sia Furler, she’s been in the spotlight for nearly 15 years, first breaking into the public consciousness in 2001 with her contributions to Zero 7’s immaculately moody debut album Simple Things and then following her muse through five different (and varying) solo records, each one building up her NPR-flavored audience slowly and steadily, with Furler occasionally soundtracking a cultural touchstone like the Six Feet Under finale—which in any other career would pretty much be the apex. In the late 2000s, Furler also began finding her niche as a pop songwriter, soon churning out album tracks for Christina Aguilera and Celine Dion and flat-out monster hits for the likes of Rihanna and Ne-Yo.
Pop music is one of the most scrutinised of our cultural industries. We see singers being made on TV – chosen, mentored, styled, provided with what everyone routinely calls “material”. John Seabrook’s recent book, The Song Machine: Inside The Hit Factory, is the latest in a line of long-form gawps around the facility, clocking the beatmakers, top-line (melody) writers, and producers sculpting ditties by committee.
The central concept of ‘This Is Acting’ - an album of rejected pop songs written to other artist’s templates - is an intriguing prospect. In the sky-high brilliance of ‘Alive,’ the brassily chaotic, Amerie drum-lick channelling ‘Sweet Design,’ the chart-ready ‘Unstoppable’ and the simple yet effective ‘Reaper’, Sia asserts her place as one of pop’s leading songwriters, and gives a glimpse of the mysterious cogs powering the likes of Beyonce and Adele from behind the shimmery curtain. For much of ‘This is Acting,’ Sia is at the helm of a meticulously tensioned ship, port and starboard carefully balanced as she zooms for the emotional bullseye.
One of the many fascinating aspects of John Seabrook’s history of manufactured pop in the noughties, The Song Machine, is the way he touches on the occasionally complex feelings that big songwriters-for-hire have about performing in their own right. Many are pragmatic artists who’ve realised their time in the spotlight is over, in some cases before it began. There were never many takers for Max Martin’s early-90s outfit It’s Alive, perhaps understandably – there’s nothing intrinsically bad about any of the individual words Wikipedia uses to describe It’s Alive’s sound, but taken together, they manage to suggest some of the most disheartening music ever made: “Swedish glam-style funk-metal”.
The past decade-plus of pop music has been dominated by behind-the-scenes songwriting maestros like Max Martin and Ryan Tedder, but only one of them – 40-year-old Australian Sia Furler – has become a solo star in her own right. Sia had a career as an electronica-leaning artist in the early 2000s, before finding her voice as a Top 40 master blaster, writing smashes for Beyoncé, Rihanna and more. She saved her most intense fire for her own breakout solo hit, 2014's "Chandelier" – a diabolically catchy depiction of alcoholism that was also so real it could scare Jim Beam off booze.
That most of the songs on This Is Acting were intended for other artists results in material—both in terms of theme and sound—that you wouldn't expect to find on a Sia album. “Word travels fast when you've got an ass like mine,” she sings on “Sweet Design,” a lyric that feels contrived coming from the infamously bashful singer-songwriter. Part of the fun, of course, is trying to suss out whom these songs were originally written for.
One of the most revelatory treasures of prolific hitmaker/singer/performing wig Sia Furler is her Genius annotation for her most ubiquitous Top 40 tour de force, “Chandelier. ” Among the self-jibes is a knowing explanation of the track’s lyric “I’m gonna live like tomorrow doesn’t exist” — with self-lacerating comedic flair, she comments, “I’ve written this lyric or something like it into at least 40 songs in the last year. ” Writing for others and repackaging her most dramatic life experiences has become Sia’s bread and butter.
In 2012, Sia rose from the ashes of an indie career as a one-woman pop song factory, churning out hits for Rihanna and Britney Spears and Flo Rida. She wrote songs like “Wild Ones” and “Diamonds,” songs that cut like a scalpel, poke around a little, sew us up, and leave us alone forever. Sia’s pop hits didn’t distinguish themselves except in their brazen vacuousness, even relative to other pop hits.
1000 Forms Of Fear, Sia’s last chart-topping album, was the accidental hit the artist had originally released as a means of being freed from her record deal. But if that surprise smash convinced her to stay in the game, then This is Acting is the sound of her doubling down on a solo career she had previously considered abandoning. There’s a clear theme here, and it’s emancipation—from fear, from doubt, and most of all, from feeling as though she wasn’t meant to be a star.
Camera-shy Australian Sia occupies a singular position as a hit pop songwriter who moonlights as a chart-topping artist in her own right. ‘This Is Acting’ features tracks she wrote for A-listers including Adele, Beyoncé and Rihanna but kept for herself after they were rejected. It’s an album filled with scraps, then – but they’re scraps that would be snapped up by most pop stars in a second.Any faults can be rebutted, at least partly, by the album’s conceit.
When Sia returned with “Chandelier” in 2010, it proved to be the Australian singer’s biggest hit to date. The accompanying album 1000 Forms of Fear, was actually her sixth full length effort, but beyond her native Australia she hadn’t a huge impact. But Sia Furler is, arguably, one of the most interesting pop stars performing today. A supremely talented singer and song writer, she been written with some of the biggest stars on the planet, co-writing "Diamonds" by Rihanna, and "Pretty Hurts", the opener to Beyonce’s surprise 2013 album, as well as working with Kylie Minogue, Christina Aguilera, Jessie J and Rita Ora, to name but a few.
In spite of the usual lull of a new year, this January, in particular, was jam-packed with loads of exciting releases that cover a whole gamut of styles and attitudes. Sometimes we just don't have the time and resources to cover them all, but that doesn't mean we're always listening. Below are some ….
The conceit of Australian singer, songwriter, and producer Sia’s latest album is that almost all of its 12 tracks were offered to, and rejected by, other artists. It turns out that Rihanna’s trash — and that of Beyoncé, Adele, Katy Perry, Shakira, and others — is Sia’s treasure. “This Is Acting” is packed with terrific pop songs that, if radio plays along, could be big hits à la “Chandelier.” In the wake of Sia’s very personal 2014 release, “1000 Forms of Fear,” it’s interesting and illuminating to hear how she approaches writing lyrics, melodies, and vocal arrangements for other people, while working with tracks crafted by artists as diverse as Kanye West and Jack Antonoff of fun.
I SUPPOSE the ultimate irony regarding the work of Sia Furler is that, in spite of her relentless commitment to remaining a faceless figure in front of the media, her 19-year solo career arch has begun to look more like a self-awareness bell curve. For more than a decade, critics have considered Sia the rare talent capable of both penning captivating pop songs and delivering showstopper vocal performances. Dual-threat artists are certainly nothing new, but Sia the Artist stopped being a thing more than 15 years ago.
Pop-star-turned-songwriter-turned-pop-star-again Sia Furler apparently recorded her seventh album to fulfill contractual obligations with her music publisher. Whereas 2014’s 1000 Forms Of Fear sounded like top-40 fun but was lyrically full of violence and angst, This Is Acting is almost entirely material she originally wrote for other artists – hence the title. And hence the fluffier tone that kicks off with Bird Set Free and Alive, a pair of Olympic-theme-song-sized belters rejected by Adele.
Sia's new album is "This Is Acting." Sia's new album is "This Is Acting." A year and a half ago, Sia transformed a serious liability into an undeniable asset. So why does her new album make waste of her success? An Australian singer-songwriter with a flair for fitting confessional lyrics to sleek electronic beats, Sia built a respectable following in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Eventually, though, she grew tired of the demands of modern pop stardom and switched gears to write songs for others.
“This Is Acting” declares its ambivalence with its title. It’s an album that partly separates songwriting from self-expression: a collection of songs that Sia (whose last name is Furler) initially wrote for performers like Adele and Rihanna. When they declined the songs, Ms. Furler reclaimed them to sing for herself, flaunting rather than playing down her part in the 21st-century sphere of songwriting by committee.