Review Summary: No one does it like Sia
Australian singer-songwriter Sia Furler has been in this business for a while. Six studio solo albums, vocal contributions to Zero 7, and, as has been most prevalent lately, songwriting for the biggest starts in pop. Rihanna, Christina Aguilera, David Guetta, Britney Spears, Kesha, the list goes on. Since the release of 2010’s jubilant The Fight
, Sia has very deliberately stepped out of the spotlight and allowed her writing chops to shine (see what I did there?) Beside the fact that she harbors an intense anxiety about showing her face on live TV, she also simply doesn’t want to be famous anymore. At least not for her image. She may want people to know her songs, but she has been reveling in her relative anonymity. And if you’re going to be a pop star without a face, you better be a brilliant as Sia is on her sixth record 1000 Forms of Fear
Even while she was cranking out hits for other artists with absolutely zero news of a new solo album, I always had the suspicion that she had been keeping a few tunes here and there for herself. In fact, that’s sort of how “Chandelier” happened. She was writing it, perhaps with Rihanna in mind, but then she decided it was too personal – it details the singer’s own battles with alcoholism – and she kept it for herself. Good thing, too. Rihanna could have sung this song well, but not like Sia. No one could sing this like Sia. Her titanic voice positively bursts open the chorus like a cannonball, reaching impeccable high notes as it cracks and rasps. The emotion Sia can convey in her vocals is unmatched by most if not all other modern pop singers, and even though it frequently breaks and squeaks, she never loses pitch or delivers a vocal that’s less than stunning.
That’s true of all of 1000 Forms of Fear
. Even in the more minor, less thrilling moments, such as “Straight for the Knife” and “Fair Game,” her voice carries the songs. “Fair Game” especially, with its very clear hark back to Sia’s breakthrough record, Colour the Small One
, seems at times a sore thumb amongst all these hooky pop songs and power ballads. Its slow violins and plinking xylophone leading a verse melody that’s honestly not all that interesting. But her vocals save it from being completely forgettable, especially near the end when they finish the last chorus on a surprising note.
As for the rest of the album, it’s virtually hit after hit. “Burn the Pages” is a welcome bout of positivity after the first two sad salvos, and it works wonderfully. “Yesterday’s gone and you will be okay! / Paste your past into a book! / Burn the pages let ‘em cook!” she exclaims, rendering smiles all around. “Eye of the Needle” is one of the best power ballads she’s ever written, featuring a life-affirming, powerful vocal, and plaintive piano. Speaking of power ballads, “Fire Meet Gasoline,” though it showcases a not-so-subtle debt to Beyonce’s “Halo” (which I’m sure Sia doesn’t even think she is hiding), is simply fantastic. The chorus, with those addictive “do-do-do-dodo-do”s, has been stuck on repeat in my head since I heard it.
It’s not all slow jams, though. “Hostage” reminds very quickly of the more guitar-based pop of We Are Born
, even down to her habitually muddy diction. “Elastic Heart,” which originally featured a vocal from The Weeknd (though he is thankfully extricated on this version) beams down and explodes with swagger. The vocal loop in the background offer something new to this album’s DNA, and Sia switches from soft to explosive with ease. And “Free the Animal,” one of the weirdest songs here, is also one of the best. That beat, those keys, that vocal chop-n-screw – it sounds like it could be a Robyn song with very little tweaking. It also has one hell of a bridge. After all these explosives comes the subterranean, nocturnal “Cellophane,” which is the one song here that probably couldn’t survive as a single, and that’s a good thing: it’s the perfect penultimate track, a minimalistic breather before the climactic “Dressed in Black.”
Sia has probably made more money writing for other singers for the past few years, but I am so grateful she decided to release some of her own songs again. This a pop album, yes, but it’s an intelligent, huge, consistent one. There is an extreme lack of filler here. Her voice is better than ever, lyrics are grounded and smart, and her melodies still stick like gum in your brain. And the fact that “Chandelier” isn’t the best song on the album should be enough cause for wonderment and curiosity. Don’t be dissuaded by how you may feel after those (awesome) TV performances. She can keep that paper bag on her head as long as she wants, because this truly is one of the best pop records of the year, by one of pop's best kept secret weapons.
Final Score: 8.3
Key Tracks: Chandelier, Eye of the Needle, Free the Animal, Fire Meet Gasoline