Album review: Sia shines brightly on '1000 Forms of Fear'
Sia has had more success as a guest on other artists' records-- such as David Guetta’s “Titanium” and Flo Rida’s “Wild Ones” or during her stint with Zero 7 on tunes like “Destiny” --than as a solo artist, but with “Chandelier,” the first single from “1000 Forms of Fear,” out tomorrow (8), the Australian singer/songwriter is finally breaking out as a pop star on her own.
“Chandelier” reached the top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100, in large part driven by its compelling video featuring 11-year old dancer Maddie Ziegler. Though Sia has had several strong songs on her previous albums, “Chandelier” is her first bona-fide hit as a solo artist.
The good news is there’s plenty more on “Fear,” produced by Greg Kurstin, to continue that path, even if there is nothing that’s quite as striking as “Chandelier,” a tune that sounds similar to Rihanna’s “Diamonds”—a song co-written by Sia— but bolstered by Sia’s brilliant take on a party girl whose lows are as devastating as her highs are exhilarating.
Sia often slurs her words as they roll over the electronic-enhanced melodies like water in a creek flowing over uneven rocks. It can be jarring at times as she breaks words in strange places and swings up and down the scale in unexpected ways, unconfined by any traditional pop singing structure. For example, on “Cellophane,” Sia sings as if she’s up on the Broadway stage, full of drama, as she delivers lines like “I’m such a basket case while I fall apart, you hide all my pills again.” Interesting echo-y production with a subtle use of a tremolo guitar make the song a stand out.
“Fear’s” first few tunes, “Chandelier,” “Big Girls Cry” and “Burn The Pages” follow enough of the same script—electronic tracks with pop production— that the album is just starting to feel predictable when it takes a sharp turn with the ultra-poppy, Gwen Stefani-like “Hostage.” The toe-tapping, peppy, high velocity pop track betrays the downer lyrics on this sure-to-be single. Sia then veers into Lana Del Rey territory on the stately, grand ballad “Straight For The Knife,” about a lover who knows exactly where all her weak spots are and exactly how to inflict maximum damage. While Sia is just as capable of sounding as mannered as LDR, she always remains inviting as opposed to some impenetrable presence. In fact, if anything, she lays herself bare over and over.
Throughout “Fear,” Sia traffics mainly in matters of love and just how toxic our relationships can be. Whether she’s admitting she doesn’t play fair either on the delicious “Fair Game,” which wraps her voice in a tinker-toy piano, or on the over-the-top, very busy closing track, “Dressed in Black,” where a new love brings her back to life, Sia is about breaking down the barriers that make us feel alone.
While she’s always been bracingly honest in her lyrics, on “Fear,” the combo of the music and lyrics seem to have all come together— as if she’s taking a few lessons from the other folks who have had big hits utilizing her words and her vocals.
Now it’s her turn to shine bright like a diamond.