The songwriting queen of the pop scene, Sia, topped January off with an album full of pop jams. Almost every track on her new effort This Is Acting was written for another artist, unlike her last effort, 1,000 Forms Of Fear which featured her turning pop hits into the pain and struggle of living with bipolar disorder and drug addiction.
The album has a pretty diverse soundscape. There’s the piano-pop ballads, ‘Bird Set Free’ and ‘Alive’, while there are also the feel good radio bangers like ‘Reaper’ and ‘Cheap Thrills’. Sia channels her inner Adele on ‘Alive’ (since the song was written for and about her), but keeps the strength of her voice evident in other tracks like ‘Footprints’ and ‘Unstoppable’, the latter of which could be this album’s toned down ‘Chandelier’ (musically, at least). ‘Unstoppable’ brings out a punchy brass sound towards the end, building up the track dominated by massive synthscapes and a huge beat to an epic climax. She adds some worldly flavors into the mix, too: ‘Broken Glass’ has some eastern vibes sewn into it, and the track intended for Shakira, ‘Move Your Body’, retains some Latin elements and the flashiness expected from a Shakira track. Sia’s instrumentals always have tons of texture and layers to them that leave every listen with something new to discover. Try dissecting every background vocal melody in bonus track ‘Fist Fighting A Sandstorm’ and you’ll get a sense of all of the complexity that is interlaced into these tracks.
While diverse, the album has a major flaw: it lacks integrity, in a sense. Barring the quirky ‘One Million Bullets’, basically every other song on the album was written for a different artist. Rihanna turned down ‘Bird Set Free’, ‘Cheap Thrills’, ‘Reaper’, and ‘Space Between’, while Adele also let go of a few tracks. Other artists such as Beyoncé and Jennifer Lopez can also be credited to turning down ‘Footprints’ and ‘Sweet Design’, respectively. Writing songs for other artists and then recording them yourself takes something away from it. Not necessarily the meaning of the song (though ‘Alive’ is a big counter against that, as it’s literally about Adele), but perhaps the artist’s connection. A powerful performance can be taken a step further if the artist feels something resonating in them while performing this song. This Is Acting is full of great moments for Sia, but most songs have some sense of distance between her and the meaning.
This collection of songs written for other artists were given one more chance for their chance in the limelight by their composer, Sia, who took these rejects and turned them into her own. Some artists really missed out on incredible works. Sia’s powerful voice and artistic visions pull through again on her seventh record. Hopefully her next effort will feature more work intended for herself and not others - that’s the next step to making a true pop masterpiece. Until then, this album has plenty of tracks to jam to.
Favorite Tracks: Bird Set Free, Footprints, Alive, Reaper
Least Favorite Tracks: Move Your Body, Sweet Design