Sia’s ‘This Is Acting’: Album Review
Still she returned, four years later, following a booming business as a top-notch songwriter to icons (Rihanna‘s “Diamonds” and Beyoncé‘s “Pretty Hurts” being just two examples of her knack for hits). Fame was one of the 1,000 forms of fear she would explore on her sixth studio album, the one that ultimately propelled her to this gargantuan star. And that’s when the switch flipped — or rather her hair did, forward, covering her face. Some cheekily suggested she was taking a cue from the Lady Gaga handbook of weird (though anyone who has followed Sia’s early Zero 7 beginnings can attest to the fact that she’s been around far longer than Ms. Germanotta). But what Sia was doing was finding the greatest compromise to maintaining privacy and self-comfort in the midst of star power.
Her seventh studio album This Is Acting (out today, ) feels like the aftermath of coming to terms with her nagging demons, as Sia maintains brutal honesty cloaked in cinematic, mainstream music — albeit through songs that, as we well know by now, were written for and rejected by other artists.
Sia has said in interviews that This Is Acting would be a poppier experience, and that’s true to an extent. The standard for pop music nowadays is that there is no standard: Saccharine pop tarts can still break off a loosie single but Justin Bieber can pour his heart out for once and Alessia Cara can hate conforming to house parties. It’s an all-inclusive affair, albeit full of talent. So when Sia calls this project “pop,” she’s right, but it’s still far deeper than songs about cruising the boardwalk in the summer or something.
This album is dark, indicated by the lead single “Alive,” but also by the opener “Bird Set Free,” where Sia takes a solemn vow to emotional liberation amidst strong piano keys. “One Million Bullets” and “Unstoppable” continue that sentiment laden with survival tactics. Other tracks like “Move Your Body” and “Cheap Thrills” make a valiant attempt to lighten things up a bit, the latter having a cute setup of painted nails and hitting the club but not needing dollar bills to have fun. The plus here is that Sia has written so many damn Pop songs for everyone that she can basically make a hit with her eyes closed.
The minus? Her voice is so bold and beautiful that when she attempts to wedge herself into songs designed for thin voices (check “Sweet Design”), she sounds like an opera singer in a dancehall. Ill-fitting. She appears most at home when her passion pours out, especially on the final two songs of the project, “Broken Glass” and “Space Between.”
It feels as though Sia’s career has been idyllic thus far to everyone but her. She started in the super cool indie world, moved over to mid-level pop majesty, took a break to be a hit songwriter and then slid into near-icon status. But when you live inside your head, none of that really matters, and that’s what This Is Acting reveals.
At this point the only critique is that while Sia has made millions off giving other stars their words, she should shed their influence when she’s writing the ones for herself.
Idolator Score: 4/5
— Kathy Iandoli