Sia, “This Is Acting”

Sia-2016-This_Is_Acting_cover_hi_resSia
This Is Acting
MONKEY PUZZLE/RCA
5/10

At the previous peak of Sia’s career, she was a songwriter/singer whose tunes for Christina Aguilera, Beyoncé, Rihanna, and beyond were grand and beguilingly emotional: power ballads for the trap-hop generation. Once she finally started to portray the angst behind windswept addiction in her own songs, such as “Chandelier,” Sia’s ache (and knack for a catchy sadness) sounded even fuller. On this seventh album, she took back songs that Adele and Rihanna passed on, making This Is Acting a juicy prospect—that is, until you realize that Sia’s formula sounds rote and remote rather than urgent and intimate in her own hands. Maybe Acting is meant to show the puppet-string machinations of the music biz, but it doesn’t come across as such when you hear Sia aping the rounded tones of Adele on the soulful “Alive” and the “Classical Gas”-y “Bird Set Free.” It’s almost imitative of the Brit hit-maker for whom the songs were written. Same too of “Cheap Thrills,” which was penned for Rihanna: it’s got all of the chinks and clicks, but none of RiRi’s kinky sensuality. The intended-for-Beyoncé “Footprints” and the blandly anthemic “Unstoppable” are faceless at best. Great songs, yes, but without Sia’s nervy verve. Only the husky cocktail noir of “One Million Bullets” and the gorgeously odd “Reaper” seem hauntingly all hers.

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