“I’ve written this lyric or something like it into at least 40 songs in the last year.” Sia left this comment on an annotation of the hook of her explosive single “Chandelier” on the popular lyric annotation site Rap Genius and it pretty much sums up her career in the last few years. She has written many empowering anthems and emotional ballads for singers like Christina Aguilera, Beyonce, Rihanna, Lea Michele and more, but aside from a feature or two on film soundtracks, many people hadn’t heard much of the singer’s music until she dropped “Chandelier” as the lead single from her new album 1000 Forms of Fear earlier this year. Much of this has to do with the fact that Sia prides herself on being successful, but still flying under the radar.
She wasn’t always like this, though. Look back a few years and you will find Sia showing off her silly personality in many of her music videos. You will see her belting out passionate tales of love on late night television. And you will come across her face on many of her album covers.
But, in an attempt to maintain a sense of privacy in spite of her newfound fame, the singer has now chosen to stray away from the spotlight, using only her signature blonde bob as a signifier of her work. In a world where fans want to know their favorite artists’ every move, the decision is admirable, but it will undoubtedly hinder some of her newer fans from connecting with her and the stories she tells in her music.
Still, even if you don’t know the singer’s face, you’ve likely been touched by her songwriting before, be it by way of the previously mentioned singers or the cult favorite “Breathe Me.” Few of the singer’s newer fans are familiar with her work before that, however.
So it won’t disappoint them that there are no songs quite like the manic “Buttons” or the deceptively cheery “The Girl You Lost To Cocaine” on this album. All of Sia’s quirky moments have been kept to a minimum here, peaking through between synths and heavy drums. There are no moments as sweet or as tender as Sia’s Zero 7 collaboration “Distractions,” either.
Instead, 1000 Forms of Fear comes off as a solid, albeit safe, dissent into the mainstream. The metaphorical lyrics and cheery pop melodies are easy to digest, but, aside from the lead single, the album as a whole could benefit from being attached to a personal set of triumphs and failures to make them more relatable.
It may come off as a surprise, but the songwriter’s biggest weapon on this project is her agile voice, not her words. Utilizing techniques like vocal breaks (“Eye of the Needle” and “Hostage”), exclamations (“Free the Animal”), raspy powerhouse belts and an endless amount of melismas to emote, Sia is often able to make these songs feel distinctly hers. And even when she doesn’t quite pull off this feat, she still delivers beautifully crafted pop songs.
Chandelier – Sia’s voice soars as she delivers startlingly rounded high notes over a dramatic production on the album opener and lead single about when partying gets out of hand. It’s the perfect example of using vocal techniques to convey a song’s message and, unlike the generic songs she’s given to other artists, it’s distinctly Sia. “Chandelier” is without a doubt the best video of 2014 so far and one of the best songs, too.
Big Girls Cry – An emotional midtempo ballad about being unafraid to show emotion, “Big Girls Cry,” too, benefits from Sia’s signature raspy vocals. This time she keeps the vocal acrobatics to a minimum as the production rises and falls around her. It’s a generic pop song, but that doesn’t make it any less powerful.
Burn the Pages – “I know it’s a heavy load carrying those fears around, worry makes the world go (a)round,” Sia sings, ditching the heavier emotions for a moment of optimism in “Burn the Pages.” The production features shimmering pings, claps and rhythmic vocal phrasing that matches the song’s steady percussion before the cheery hook comes in atop a sunny “ohhh” refrain.
Eye of the Needle – It may take some getting used to, but “Eye of the Needle” features an effectively uneasy melody that juxtaposes the song’s lyrics about attempting to keep steady in the midst of turmoil. “Step and repeat, tears fall to the beat, smile through the pain, feel the acid rain,” Sia sings, breaking up every phrase in the song with the repetitive refrain.
Hostage – This bright cut’s pounding drums and surf-rock guitar riffs almost feel out of place on the dark album if you’re not listening to the lyrics.“It all begins with one kiss, I’m held hostage by your love. Put me in cuffs, lock me up, I’m held hostage by your love,” Sia sings, her voice breaking, adding a serious and desperate feel to the fun production.
Straight for the Knife – This standout piano ballad finds Sia returning to a moodier vibe production-wise. Sonically, the song feels muted compared to the violently vivid lyrics. “I’m hungry for your bad loving,” Sia sings over militant drumming, once again using a swinging metaphor just as she did in “Chandelier.” This time she’s hanging on to her lover’s every words instead of a bottle, although both seem equally as destructive.
Fair Game – “I’ve never played a fair game, I’ve always had the upper hand,” Sia sings, begging her lover to challenge her emotionally over strings on album standout “Fair Game.” Where her voice has taken the lead on most of the cuts, her writing is the star this time around. Simplicity is key here.
Elastic Heart – This noisy Diplo production often overshadows Sia, but the sentiment never gets lost. Originally created for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire soundtrack, “Elastic Heart” is a battle cry for everyone that is trying to fight their way through an emotional obstacle course.
Free the Animal – Sia has toyed with the idea of loving someone to death a few times on the album, but never to this extent. “Detonate me. Shoot me like a cannon ball. Granulate me. Kill me like an animal. Decapitate me,” she sings in a malfunctioning vocal track during the Free the Animal” hook.
Fire Meet Gasoline – “Fire Meet Gasoline” isn’t a terrible song, it jut doesn’t offer anything that the other songs don’t do better. The cut features more fire and death references, but with “Straight for the Knife” and “Free the Animal” being such strong tracks, this song just comes off as unnecessarily redundant. As a standalone, however, it’s a pretty solid pop song.
Cellophane – “Look at me I’m such a basket case. While I fall apart you’ll hide all my pills again.” Over an initially stark production, Sia once again addresses addiction atop lonesome howls, twanged riffs and a thumping percussion that mimics a heartbeat. But where most celebrities glamorize their bouts with addiction, Sia addresses hers in a way that feels more regretful than braggy.
Dressed in Black – The perfect ending to an album, “Dressed In Black” sounds like a music box melody from a nightmare, which is fitting since Sia is singing about hitting rock bottom. The song progresses over a gritty electric guitar riff and eventually Sia finds someone to save her and “cover her heart in kisses.” The track ends with a rowling refrain and Sia delivering vocal runs for over two minutes. It’s one of those moments that would probably induce chills if you were to ever hear it live.