With such a powerful voice, Sia should have nothing to fear.
Here it comes, my dreaded commentary on today’s music industry. I don’t like to say today’s mainstream market suffers to its predecessors, because, let’s face it, there are thousands of interesting artists breaking ground. However, it would be a lie to say the music industry, as a whole, is consistent with quality music. I’ve already talked about the party hits. Sure, there will always be party hits. The 60’s weren’t without their silly, uppity dance tunes like “The Watusi,” and the eighties….I won’t even get into the eighties. That particular style appeals to a certain mood, and it’s not like a club is going to throw down Dream Theater’s “Illumination Theory.” Unless it’s remixed by Nelly, but that’s besides the point.
Now, however, when Top 40 consists of only party anthems, with the occasional folk rock/soul hit thrown in, then it’s safe to say popular music is on the decline. But, how can you blame these modern artists? That’s what the young — you know dad’s listening to classic rock (arena rock) radio while mom’s listening to soft rock — audience wants! They want to get drunk, high, fuck bitches, and get money! So when Sia Furler dropped her 2014 album, 1000 Forms of Fear, the popular music industry felt some much needed emotion through the eyes of one of its victims.
Sia is popular music’s Devin Townsend. She has worked her ass off for years and has only now gained the respect she deserves. With six LP’s and God knows how many singles and feature credits under her belt, Sia finally hit the billboard charts with the powerful “Chandelier,” peaking at number eight. She’s written for pretty much every pop artist out there, from Rihanna, to Celine Dion, to Britney Spears, to Eminem, to David Guetta. It’s up to you to decide if Rihanna’s “Diamonds” took a lot of thought, but it proved one thing: Sia Furler can sell records. When it comes down to it, that’s the only thing that matters to label executives.
1000 Forms of Fear isn’t the most consistent album, but it emotes beautifully, especially in the opener and lead single, “Chandelier.” The song succeeds in its use of suspense. When I first heard Sia’s introductory croon, I thought her voice belonged to Rihanna, but when the chorus struck, I felt her pain. Every crack, every wail, every word felt sincere and honest, with enough flavor to keep me invested for the following tracks. Thematically, the album centers on the struggle with the self, discussing alcoholism, fame, and other struggles of the successful artist. Covering these themes are elements typical of pop music. Deep beats, catchy choruses, the occasional use of autotune.
However, no matter the coloring, 1000 Forms of Fear is, at times, agonizing in its delivery, courtesy of Sia’s undeniably rousing vocal performance. The album’s follow up single, “Elastic Heart,” continues to highlight this painful struggle. This introspective style was surprising in the most cathartic fashion. Emotion, besides the occasional Sam Smith-esque cheese fest, is a rare element in today’s mainstream. Vocal centered, Sia doesn’t shy away and puts everything into her performances.
Unfortunately, the album does suffer in overall quality. Overburdened by balladry, the pacing in 1000 Forms of Fear slows after its dramatic introduction. Almost too much. After indulging such an explosive single, I want an album to taper down, not immediately drop to a slow, plodding, piano-driven ballad. “Big Girls Cry” lowers the album’s tone too far, and its lifeless structure, generic chorus falls victim to pop’s more eye-rolling tropes. I don’t care how pretentious that sounded. “Big Girls Cry,” although a successful single, is just generally “meh.” Any music fan will understand that statement.
Thankfully, “Burn the Pages,” adds some indie rock flair into the mix. Think, a mix of Charlie XCX and Sia’s more alternative(y) past. But then, and I almost pulled my hair out the first listen, she throws in another uninspired ballad, “Eye of the Needle.” Sia’s voice soars in this track, but when that’s the only thing of interest amongst all those layers, the track becomes skippable. All of the albums influences and experiments do not make up the fact that 70% percent of the album is balladry, some good, some so-so, some cringe worthy.
1000 Forms of Fear succeeds in its impact and emotional output. With a powerful voice, Sia dropped one of 2014’s best pop albums. Although inconsistent in the songwriting department,1000 Forms of Fear makes up for its lows with painful — in a good way — singles and hard hitting subject matter.
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