Songstress Sia sets her­self free with ‘This Is Act­ing’

Cecil Whig - - ACCENT - By J ill Cluf f

In­tel­lec­tual prop­erty is a hot-but­ton topic th­ese days, es­pe­cially in the mu­sic world. Gone are the days of Milli Vanilli, who lost their ca­reer be­cause it was fi­nally dis­cov­ered they were merely lip-sync­ing when their tape started skip­ping on­stage. Or fur­ther back, when Marni Nixon sang the songs for both Au­drey Hep­burn and Natalie Woods, but re­ceived lit­tle to no recog­ni­tion for it.

Such a thing would never oc­cur now. Mu­si­cians go out of their way to prove they are for real – mak­ing live per­for­mances dis­tinc­tive from their CDs, and per­form­ing songs on­stage that have not even been recorded. Many have started tak­ing to­tal cre­ative con­trol, right down to writ­ing and pro­duc­ing their own songs. Who wrote the song has be­come just as im­por- tant as who sings it.

Then there is a rare artist like Sia, who has spent many years writ­ing hits for the likes of Rhi­anna, Bey­once, David Guetta and Flo Rida, but never seemed to hit it big her­self. (It didn’t help that she very rarely showed her face.) Then “Chan­de­lier” hap­pened in 2014, and sud­denly Sia be­came a house­hold name.

Sia’s lat­est al­bum “This Is Act­ing” is by far her best. (Don’t be sur­prised when it shows up on the Grammy ros­ter next year.) She has a rare gift for writ­ing both dance jams and arena-style pop tunes, all while keep­ing her lyrics raw and real. My iTunes clas­si­fies her as “indie rock,” which is both right on the money and couldn’t be fur­ther from the truth. She is indie – hard to clas­sify, against the main­stream. But she also fits eas­ily into the world of EDM and Top 40. And don’t for­get those con­fes­sion­als that paint her solidly in the singer-song­writer cat­e­gory.

The pow­er­house opener “Bird Set Free” is the per­fect ex­am­ple.

She sings:


a scream in­side / we all try to hide / oh we hold on so tight / but we can­not deny / it eats us alive.” And that very scream is sung as part of the cho­rus. It’s a unique kind of ge­nius: she uses her flawed voice and in­tro­spec­tive lyrics as a kind of bar­rier be­tween her and the world, yet is it that very per­sonal pain that draws us in.

“Alive” is an­other stun­ner that shows off her real vo­cal prow­ess. Co-writ­ten with Adele, (you can al­most hear her voice in the soar­ing cho­rus), it’s a stun­ner. Orig­i­nally in­tended for Adele’s al­bum “25,” it makes you won­der why she didn’t sing it in­stead of Sia. I like to think the best and be­lieve Adele thought it was time for us to re­ally meet Sia.

An­other fa­vorite is “Reaper,” a laid-back groove that is al­ready be­ing her­alded as one of the best songs of the year. (Don’t worry, the song is much more light-hearted than its ti­tle.) “Cheap Thrills” is the party jam that I’m sure will get heavy ro­ta­tion this sum­mer. It cel­e­brates life that can be en­joyed with­out money – just a dance floor and some­one to share it with.

Start to fin­ish, the al­bum’s an in­cred­i­ble and varied ex­per­i­ment in catchy hooks and poignant lyrics. I think it’s safe to say to say that Sia has fi­nally ar­rived – no lip­sync nec­es­sary.

Jill Cluff is a some­times li­brar­ian who is mar­ried to one gi­ant and mom to two boys. She loves all things book- and food-re­lated – of­ten at the same time.

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