Music Reviews

Album Review: Sia – This Is Acting

An album entirely of the A-List’s rejects may not seem like a winning idea, but Sia certainly brings life and vitality to the hits in This is Acting, affirming her place as both an amazing artist and a strong pop songwriter. 

It’s too tempting to play ‘spot-the-intended-artist’ on this one, and in many ways Sia makes this part of the album’s fun.  There’s the obvious Rihanna beats of ‘Cheap Thrills’ and ‘Reaper’ and it’s impossible to miss the Shakira influence in ‘Move Your Body’ which calls into mind the same wild energy of ‘Hips Don’t Lie’.  However, with Sia’s unique breathless, almost scratchy tones in the big notes, it’s more difficult to imagine Adele belting out the words to ‘Alive’ or Beyoncé’s rendition of ‘Footprints’. Once mentioned, this becomes easier, only to become more difficult with the fact that some of the tracks’ intended artists are still being speculated by the YouTube comments section.

Sia has mentioned in interviews that not all of the tracks have an emotional pull for her personally, but that it was fun to ‘play’ at being that kind of artist, and giving a possible reason for the title ‘This is Acting’.  This sort of performance style also relates to her decision with her previous album, ‘1000 Forms of Fear’ from 2014, to perform either facing away from the audience or under a wig, often sported by the dancer Maddie Ziegler in her music videos.

“It’s too tempting to play ‘spot-the-intended-artist’ on this one”

This also flows into the fact that many of the bigger songs of the album seem specifically designed with dancing in mind, with ‘Alive’ and ‘House on Fire’ drawing images of an explosive ballet act, whereas ‘Move Your Body’ and ‘Sweet Design’ are more funky and made for a club dance floor.

This versatility is also shown in the range of songs on the album. Confidence builder, love confessor, party animal, victim turned victor, all the tracks speak to a different audience, or perhaps, a singular audience at different times.  The album seems built in a wave format, with a Big, Loud, Dance track, being followed promptly by a softer song, full of contemplation.  Not every song sounds completely natural to Sia’s vocals, such as the soon-to-be club favourite ‘Cheap Thrills’, but this could be because it was not originally intended to be, and even these are still good tracks.

However, the most interesting (and possibly worrying, depending on your view) thing about the album is the questions it asks. Some may begin to argue that this is exactly what is wrong with pop music, that it’s too easy and generic and can be performed by anyone.  However Sia has been making music for years now, without wide acclaim, and these songs are written by her. Should it then matter that she may not mean every word she’s singing, if someone else can take meaning from that anyway?  Do all creative endeavours need to have 110% of your heart and soul bared for the audience to judge?  Or can a song simply be a good song by virtue that it’s pleasing to listen to?  Listening to this album, it’s tempting to say that not every track needs to be an expose on modern society.

If this is acting, then Sia pulls off a near flawless performance. It is perhaps best summed up in the song ‘Unstoppable’, with the almost defiant “I’m unstoppable today”. For Sia, that certainly seems true.

Abigail Houseman

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Co-Editor of the Music Section at University of Nottingham's IMPACT Magazine.

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