The concept of making an album out of rejected songs isn’t uncommon but is usually reserved for b-side compilations or bonus tracks for hardcore fans. Sia‘s latest offering This Is Acting is an album, but an album with a twist: it’s made up of songs she wrote for other artists who rejected them.
A majority of Sia’s success this decade has been in writing hits for other artists. She’s become prolific as the songwriter for singles by Rihanna(Diamonds), Kelly Clarkson(Invincible), Beyoncé(Pretty Hurts), Celine Dion(Loved Me Back To Life), and many many others. She can clearly write hooks and formulate hits. On her own, however, she hasn’t been quite so lucky – with Chandelier as her only significant hit, which is a shame because she has an impressively strong, distinctive voice that captures her own lyrics better than anyone else can.
That’s evident on Alive as Sia belts out the triumphant chorus in a song written with Adele intended for inclusion on 25, but ultimately it’s better suited for Sia. The downside is that it should never have been the primary single. As impressive as Sia’s vocals are, the repetition in this song is grating for anyone not looking to be floored by a vocalist.
It’s abundantly clear the tracks of This Is Acting were intended for others. On their own, they would likely sound better within the context of albums by other artists, sandwiched as filler between other factory-produced songs – as was the original intention. All together, it’s a fine example of the sacrifice one makes when trying to write a hit. Many of the songs would work for other artists, but having them back-to-back highlights their disposability.
Even though Sia’s last album 1000 Forms Of Fear showed off her talent for writing catchy pop hooks, it still maintained elements of styles that made her unique to the musical landscape. This Is Acting is void of that, instead focusing purely on the range of pop that dominates radio. Move Your Body is predictable yet irresistible dance, Reaper has an alluring chorus, and Broken Glass could be one of the great ballads of 2016.
But there are moments when that void cuts deep. On One Million Bullets, everything beyond the chorus feels like an afterthought. Sweet Design is built around its sample of Thong Song (yes, that song by Sisqo), making it catchy enough but rather forgettable, and if Cheap Thrills wasn’t currently being promoted as the second single in a remix with Sean Paul, I might have deducted it was a parody of generic party pop songs, based alone on how unconvincing she sounds singing “c’mon c’mon turn the radio on.” I have my doubts even Rihanna, the intended recipient of the song, could pull it off.
This Is Acting would be a welcome treat for the Sia fan if it were made with them in mind. Instead, it’s better off a bonus for fans of the artists who previously recorded Sia-penned hits while imagining them at the mic. Here’s to the continued success of her hit-making side, but I hope her next outing is an album of songs written for herself because she’s at her best when’s she’s genuine.
1. Bird Set Free
3. One Million Bullets
4. Move Your Body
6. Cheap Thrills
8. House On Fire
10. Sweet Design
11. Broken Glass
12. Space Between