Review Summary: This Is Acting is like a firework: explosive and exciting at first, but as time moves forward, you start to see how little time these elements last.
Despite being in the music business for more than 20 years, Sia’s role on the stage outside of her homeland of Australia still feels extremely new. Perhaps this is because she didn’t start blowing minds overseas till 2014’s 1000 Forms of Fear
, where the singer refused to show her face in any promotion of the album. It was a challenge, no doubt, but with hits like “Chandelier” to push the record, Sia finally tapped the well for making pop music that could stand outside of Australia. The follow-up to 1000 Forms of Fear
, This Is Acting
, has been a curiosity, atrociously weird album art aside. Sia has created some truly magnificent examples of pop music on This Is Acting
, but why can’t these examples carry throughout the entire album’s length?
This Is Acting
wastes no time in busting down the doors and showing Sia’s best possible moments as a pop singer. The first three tracks, “Bird Set Free”, “Alive” and “One Million Bullets” are daring, fiery, pure pop bliss. Sia’s ascendant choruses show the artist at an enormous strength, boldly trampling any adversity her lyrics describe. It’s exciting to hear amidst thick, echoing beats, despite some pretty pedestrian examples of lyrical poetry. “Unstoppable” works equally well, a triumphant kicker that evokes both power and class all at once, with a catchy chorus to boot. The shimmering energy of “Move Your Body” kicks the tempo up in an oddly retro way, calling on the kinds of pop aesthetics of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, while the playful notes of “Cheap Thrills” twist expectations in new ways, but with the same brash, explosive choruses. When Sia makes statements like these, you see a unique figure expressing power, one that catches fire in a way the likes of Lady Gaga and Adele have yet to.
But sadly, Sia’s energy can’t last the entire album, as This Is Acting
trips about halfway through and its promising sheen moves into uninteresting territory. “Reaper” sounds like a throwaway track, oddly indie-sounding in tone, but without any real fuel behind its fire. “House on Fire” and “Footprints” have only off-kilter lyrics to show for themselves, without any of the blunderbuss blasts of choruses to cap the slippery verses. That’s really the main problem with any of the tracks in the second half of This Is Acting
: all of the energy, the volatile choruses of the first half, are absent. This makes the whole second half feel weak and uninteresting, lost in a miasma of Sia’s hit-or-miss lyrics. While the record closes with a nice little breather in “Space Between”, it’s such a shame that its best moments can’t carry into its latter runtime. It’s almost like two entirely different albums.
But the album’s lesser moments are (partially) redeemed by Sia’s powerful singing. I’m still trying to fully decipher what kind of pop singer Sia is, what kind of sub-section of the Billboard charts she occupies. Between the clean high notes, the slightly snarling R&B abrasiveness, and the bluesy mumbling in the verses, she displays a bold and powerful watermark atop her own performances. Her slides and croons burst with an inability to stay still; there’s a real drive to stay animated in her vocals. With such a repertoire of vocal tools in play, Sia is able to disguise the lackluster songwriting with pop pizzazz, for a while anyway.
This Is Acting
is like a firework: explosive and exciting at first, but as time moves forward, you start to see how little time these elements last. The bombastic choruses in tracks like “Unstoppable” and “Bird Set Free” are superb, masteries of pop energy and a spit in the face of Sia’s most restrained peers in the genre. But these heights only make the album’s lesser moments seem all the more defused and tepid. “House on Fire” and “Reaper” don’t achieve anywhere near the peaks of tracks like “Alive.” It’s fascinating to hear Sia sing, and I’d be lying if I said that the last few tracks are devoid of intrigue, but it’s a real shame to see a record with such an immensely satisfying first impression nosedive so quickly. This Is Acting
has examples of Sia performing like no other pop artist in the business, but making that sense of satisfaction last its entire length seems to be the biggest obstacle in her way this time around.