Listen to This: Sia’s 'This Is Acting' is fun but lacks variety

The pop artist’s seventh album doesn’t quite live up to the greatness of “Chandelier.”

By Katherine White | Feb. 2, 2016

Tags: Music

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Sia released her first album 18 years ago. Now, her discography is seven albums strong. She’s written songs for other artists as well, most recognizably “Diamonds” by Rihanna and “Pretty Hurts” by Beyonce. The peak of her fame — so far, at least — came with the success of “Chandelier,” its amazingly-choreographed music video and fellow singles like “Electric Heart.” Could her new album, “This Is Acting,” live up to her career so far, or has Sia exhausted all the songs in her head?

The answer is somewhat of a mix. Like many pop records, “This Is Acting” is a combination of fairly good but forgettable songs and truly enjoyable tracks. None of the songs are quite at the caliber of “Chandelier,” but Sia’s great vocals are still a joy to listen to. As far as genre goes, electropop, dance and soul influences all play a role in the overall sound of the album.

Self-confident anthems start off “This Is Acting” with a rebellious spark. “Bird Set Free” and “Alive” have titles that almost speak for themselves. Both use keys and heavy drums as a backdrop, but Sia’s emotional lyrics and belting are what set the songs apart from others of their kind. In “Alive,” one of the better tracks on the record, she almost screams “I’m still breathing” and “I’m alive.” Her breathtaking vocals remind us that this is Sia we’re dealing with.

Some of the other better tracks on the album are pop songs that encompass the best of its genre — while not very complex, they are just fun to listen to. “One Million Bullets” and “Footprints” accomplish this well. However, if you’re not usually one for pop music no matter how well done it is, you’re probably not going to find a lot to like in these tracks (or the album in general). “House On Fire” also uses the tried and true keys-and-repetition formula. Individually, these songs are fun, but as a collective album, all of these similar songs can get a little boring.

Dance influences mix with electropop in tracks like “Broken Glass.” In “Cheap Thrills,” Sia sings about dancing every Friday night, but it’s not very upbeat, creating an interesting contrast. “Move Your Body” is a fun dance track that sounds just like 2008 Lady Gaga (except with Shakira-esque vocals).

The soul-pop songs are the more interesting, standout songs on the album. “Unstoppable” is a self-confidence anthem that calls back to Sia’s previous hit with David Guetta, “Titanium.” The soul influences in “This Is Acting” bring out their best for “Reaper,” which is easily one of the better songs on the album. It’s musically entertaining, includes some killer vocals and invites you to clap along. It also brings some much-needed variety to the table.

After getting through the fairly homogenous mid-section of “This Is Acting,” “Sweet Design” comes in to shake things up. This track is different from any other on the album, from the use of sampling and mixing techniques as a musical instrument to the jazzy feel. This jazz mood is evident from the drum fills to the brass harmony. This song makes you want to put on high heels and red lipstick and dance like you’re the star of a music video; essentially, after to listening to this track, it’s not surprising to hear that Sia has worked with Beyonce more than once.

The album finishes with another unique song, “Space Between,” which is much more mellow and of simpler instrumentation compared with the rest of the album. With less going on in the background, the feature of the track is clear: Sia’s vocals. Her pipes pack a punch, and it’s actually a weakness of the album that not as many tracks showcase them like this song does.

All in all, “This Is Acting” certainly has its good parts, but the overly homogenous tracklisting keeps it from being a perfect album. Ideally, the record would focus more on vocals, include more genre variety and rely more on creative structure than following typical pop music formula. The album does offer a great electropop vibe and some very fun standout tracks that are worth a listen. With this mixture, Sia leaves us with a good, but not great, album.

MOVE gives “This Is Acting” 4 out of 5 stars.

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