Saturday 5 July 2014

Sia - 1000 Forms of Fear

Sia is probably the biggest and most important pop entity that you may not have heard of.  That said, however unwittingly, you’ll definitely know her voice and at the very least you’re almost certainly familiar with her music.  The Australian singer-songwriter is responsible for some of the biggest hits of the last few years, having written for the likes of Beyoncé, Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, Rihanna, Kylie Minogue, Lea Michele, Céline Dion, Katy Perry and more.  Plus you've definitely heard David Guetta's Titanium on which Sia provides vocals, as well as Flo Rida's Wild One.

And now, more than ever, it’s time to take note of Sia.  Though she’s been releasing music for years as a solo artist, it’s with her sixth album ‘1000 Forms of Fear’ that she’s truly exploding into the spotlight following her songwriting success.  This in itself is an interesting prospect: following her 2010 album 'We Are Born' Sia was uncomfortable with the idea of fame, was unable to promote the album how she wanted to and became addicted to drugs and alcohol.  It's for this reason she became such a prolific songwriter for others and she's refused to show her face during the campaign for this new album.

Yet for a songwriter who's scared of fame, why bring out another album?  Is this a killer collection of pop tracks or does she give away her best work?

Sadly the latter is very much true.  For fans of Sia, '1000 Forms of Fear' is exactly as you'd expect: a collection of epic pop ballads with huge soaring choruses that are nigh on impossible to sing live.  But when she's proven herself to be the master of the killer chorus, why are these songs so disappointing?

The album opens with current single Chandelier that's typical Sia: a crazily high chorus sung in her uniquely powerful vocals and completely lacking in subtlety.  It's also indicative of the more personal and honest lyrics of the album.  In a candid and revealing radio interview with Howard Stern, Sia went into depth about her troubled past; lines like "Party girls don't get hurt, can't feel anything" are a clear reflection of Sia's own alcoholism.

In that same interview she described her songwriting process as "find a strong title, milk the metaphor".  This might work for the fluffy pop she writes for others, but besides Chandelier and the brilliantly moody Elastic Heart (that featured on the Hunger Games soundtrack) the lyrics here feel convoluted, as if to mask herself in her bid to hide from fame.

Throughout the album Sia clearly cements her own style, rarely deviating from her own template.  Only Hostage offers a move towards indie-rock in a mire of ballads that bizarrely lack the infectious hooks she's known for.  Fire Meets Gasoline is an exception, but it's an almost note-for-note copy of Beyoncé's Halo (written by Ryan Tedder), whilst final track Dressed In Black repeats seemingly forever.

Sia's emotive, cracking vocal elevates her music, but clearly her desire to shy away from fame has held back her own solo career.  In her own words, "I understand that music is fashion, and I'm fashionable right now".  Perhaps she won't be for much longer - at least, as a solo artist.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Chandelier
* Elastic Heart

Listen: '1000 Forms of Fear' is released on 7th July.