Album review: Sia knows what the people want — and she delivers in This Is Acting

This Is Acting has a backstory that muddies the divide between star and songwriter-for-hire even further: the tracks were rejected by artists such as Adele and Rihanna, hence that knowing album title.

Artist Sia. Mary Ellen Matthews
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This Is Acting

Sia

(Monkey Puzzle/RCA)

Two and a half stars

In many ways, Sia Furler is an unlikely pop star — at the very least, at the age of 40 she’s at an unlikely time in her life to have just reached the peak of her commercial powers. The Australian’s career has worked somewhat in reverse: she made a small fortune as a behind-the-scenes pop songwriter before stepping out of the shadows to similarly unit-shifting effect when her long-standing solo endeavours took flight.

But Furler wields a touch more authenticity than the average multimillionaire — she has lived through plenty in her four decades on Earth, haunted by the death of a boyfriend, a prolonged period of substance abuse and a flamboyant personal life.

This Is Acting holds a mirror up to all of this, with a backstory that muddies the divide between star and song-­writer-for-hire even further: the tracks were rejected by artists such as Adele and Rihanna, hence that knowing album title.

You could certainly imagine the former belting out Alive, the album's ­melodramatic first hit single, in a sepia-toned music video with leaves blowing everywhere. Its simplicity is a personification of Furler's broad-strokes approach to her art, but when she repeatedly howls "I'm still breathing", there is actual sweat and tears behind what, in another larynx, could simply suggest empty clichés.

Kanye West's supposed multimillion-dollar debts might be eased by his writing credit on the less-than-memorable Reaper, although it sounds little like the ­opinion-splitting rapper's day job. The same can't be said of Cheap Thrills, a song deemed surplus to requirements by Rihanna — it's so stylistically suited for the artist it was initially intended for that it overshadows Furler's performance, despite her best efforts at almost-Caribbean-flecked pronunciation.

Elsewhere, she occasionally falls back on her rather recognisable formula — pick word as slightly clumsy metaphor for emotion/circumstance, hammer said word to death throughout song until it becomes catch-all motivational mantra. Unstoppable is a prime example, with added 1980s power ­ballad-ish sheen.

But that's kind of the key, here. Furler knows what the people want, and she's delivering it with the consistency of a manufacturing plant. If you stop thinking of This Is Acting as art, and instead view it as an expertly executed product, then it becomes all the more impressive.

aworkman@thenational.ae

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