“This Is Acting” Album Review

There is a reason that Sia Furler is the genius behind a substantial number of the biggest pop hits of the past half-decade. There is a reason that fame dragged her unwilling, wigged blonde main out of the shadows, first as the essentially anonymous lead female vocalist on David Guetta’s “Titanium,” and later in the global smash that has become “Chandelier” (whose music video is a member of the tiny and exclusive billion-view club (with a B)). Sia is both a prolific songwriter and an incredibly talented vocalist. Both talents shine through in the pile of shining gems that she had not YET managed to sell to the likes of Adele and Rihanna when she decided to record This is Acting.

Billboard issued a scathing review of Sia’s latest album,titled, “Sia Struggles to Find Herself on This is Acting.” I completely disagree.

Sia is a professional song-writer. She literally writes disingenuous, radio-friendly pop singles for other artists as a living. By opening up the sausage-making process to allow the public to gaze in, Sia presents the truest version of herself conceivable. Certainly, she presents a truer version of herself on this album than does the hypothetical other popstar who performs one of her custom hits as though its simple and crafted lyrics emanated directly from the depths of a shallow soul.

Billboard closes by saying, “That isn’t acting — it’s just affectation.” But that is precisely the point. Sia is revealing her truth, ugly and beautiful, and at the same time exposing the true actors in the industry for the frauds they are.

The album is an amalgamation of carefully crafted lyrics paired with soaring, emotional vocals and varied background instrumentation.

Each individual song stands on its own– one might almost listen to the entire album straight without getting bored, a rare feat for those of us under the age of 30.

Billboard’s high-minded critic actually attacks the lack of boring, downbeat songs without compelling choruses or catchy beats–that could never be singles. You know what I call such songs? Fillers. I say kudos to Sia for not tossing a bunch of songs at us that really just sound like a continuation of one ridiculously long song. Maybe it’s just my millennial impatience, or my millennial disdain for the outdated practice of actually shelling out change for an “album” as an independent piece of artistry that will actually be listened to straight through, but if I am going to buy an album, I kindof want to get 12 DIFFERENT songs at least most of which are actually worth listening to.

Oh yeah. What was it that Billboard said when Taylor Swift released an album of nothing bit hit singles? That’s right. Nothing… Except praise. Seriously massive heaps of praise. I think they called her something like “Glorified and Almighty Savior of the Music Industry in it’s Most Dire Straits of Peril.”

“Bird Set Free” and lead single “Alive” sound like something that could have been on 1000 Forms of Fear. “Cheap Thrills” sounds more playful, like some of Sia’s pre-“Chandelier” releases. Sia migrates through a range of vocal and sonic stylings while expressing a range of emotions.

If this is the kind of work that Sia produces off-the-cuff, then my vote is for her to drop an album every year. 

Sia’s album is basically sonic bliss, at least in parts. It isn’t perfect. I obviously like some of the songs more than others. And, there are songs that I absolutely loved on 1000 Forms of Fear (see, e.g., “Cellophane”) that don’t have an equivalent here. But, I really think there is something here for just about anyone. Sia pulls through with a lead single featuring the massive vocal display that we all expected after “Chandelier,” and she drops a load of other interesting and generally well-crafted songs.

The worst I can say is that some of the songs sound almost unfinished, almost as though they were made to be revamped by an end-artist. But it is this aspect of the album–the peak into the sausage-making process that it affords–that is one of the biggest draws. One can’t help but imagine what might have been had the songs been finished and released by other artists.

In the end, of course, we have the limited perspective we are born with, and we take This is Acting with the understanding that we are buying Sia as-is, straight from the sausage factory.

What did you think about This is Acting on your first listen? Do you agree with Billboard? Or are your expectations for Sia satisfied?