To be fair Sia Furler has never had one overarching style to her career. She’s barely been a pop princess or an indie goddess, just an artist that has struggled for relevance for much of her 21-year career.

Before ‘Breathe Me’ saved the Adelaide born singer-songwriter’s career she had released two trip-hop inspired releases in her 1997 debut, Only See, and its 2001 follow-up Healing Is Difficult, that were almost certainly influenced by her time doing vocals for British duo Zero 7.

Even then, when ‘Breathe Me’ was released on the adult contemporary pop album Colour The Small One in early 2004 it took over a year for it to be picked up as the soundtrack to the heart-rending season finale of HBO’s Six Feet Under.

2007’s Some People Have Real Problems saw the singer first trying a more pop direction as she introduced us to her quirky persona via ‘The Girl You Lost To Cocaine’. Needless to say the track, along with ‘Buttons’, stuck out like a sore thumb on an adult contemporary release.

The album is important though for providing the genre shift that would define many a fan’s memory of Sia as an indie pop singer. As 2010’s We Are Born took the full guitar-led pop turn she famously quit touring after being diagnosed with Graves disease.

Which brings us to Sia’s post touring life as a bankable songwriter for hire. Most that know her for show stealing spots on tracks by David Guetta and Eminem are the same fans hilariously pleading on her Facebook for a glimpse behind the now famous Sia wig to see her face, completely oblivious to her pre-Guetta career.

However for those who have witnessed the transformation from an adult contemporary artist to pop singer, it’s worth asking yourself two questions before you delve into her sixth studio album 1000 Forms Of Fear:
– How much do you care about Sia’s career thus far?
– How much do you believe one artist can just rely on their powerhouse vocals?

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Both are interrelating questions and your answers will inform your ability to appreciate the album. It’s just one of the many things we learnt from inspecting her first release as a fully-fledged mainstream pop artist.

Read on for eight more lessons that Sia’s sixth studio album taught us.

Musically Sia’s Lost The Quirk

If you were lucky enough to catch Sia live before she hung up the mic you would no doubt remember just how eccentric and lively the singer can be on stage. It’s a quirkiness that was also felt through the pop moments of Some People and We Are Born and was largely responsible for much of her identity.

But just as she’s given up touring and hidden her face, the music of 1000 Forms Of Fear is as homogenised as the pop stars she’s written for and the tracks she’s featured on. While this was expected, given everything she’s done since ‘Titanium’ became a world wide hit in 2011 has been much in the same vein, there’s no denying that a bit of personality wouldn’t have hurt here. At least that way she wouldn’t have to rely so much on those glass-shattering vocals.

The Loss Of Quirk Has Manifested In Another Way

When The NY Times profiled the secretive songwriter back in April she revealed the formula behind hits like ‘Diamonds’ and ‘Titanium’.

After almost committing suicide, a friend suggested she try writing for others in a way that wasn’t so confessional via ‘high concept’ songs “that work as a simple, poignant, bankable metaphor.” But Sia’s chorus analogies seem more inventive than they do simple.

Few other songwriters can use a ‘Chandelier’ or ‘Cellophane’ as a prop or even make your heart elastic for all intents and purposes on a pop song. That’s why Sia has stood out as songwriter over the past four years, and if that’s how Sia’s quirkiness has manifested we can’t complain; she’s brought a much-needed dash of colour to mainstream pop songwriting.

There’s Cross Over With We Are Born

The personality may be lost, but that doesn’t mean 1000 Forms Of Fear is a complete departure from We Are Born. There are brief moments here where Sia employs the same guitars that The Strokes’ Nick Valensi used to heavily characterise her 2010 release.

In fact ‘Hostage’ sounds like a modern day Strokes song until the church bells usher in the chorus. Elsewhere ‘Free The Animal’ wears the We Are Born DNA until it reaches the big chorus that now defines a typical Sia track. It’s not much but for fans of her last album these are two cuts that might just ease you into the rest of the record.

1000 Forms Of Fear Is Stylistically Interesting

Like its predecessor’s greatest attributes, 1000 Forms Of Fear – at the very least – is consistent in its sonic pop ambitions. There are varying stylistic outreaches like the alternative RnB glitch beats of ‘Elastic Heart’, the brilliant mid-tempo violin jaunt of ‘Fair Game’ and the anthemic piano-led ballad of ‘Big Girls Cry’. But if anything these small dalliances allow for enough variety to keep the record from getting boring.

Even Sia Relies On Fillers

Consistent in style yet not so much in quality. There might be some big moments here worth celebrating, but there are too many fillers that fall a little too far short of the line. Tracks like ‘Straight For The Knife’, the uplifting ‘Burn The Pages’, the annoyingly repetitive ‘Fire Meet Gasoline’ and the over enthusiastic ‘Hostage’ don’t sit on the same level that the rest of the album does.

It’s A Pop Record With Feels

In the same NY Times interview mentioned earlier, Sia discussed the “victim to victory” narrative in pop songs these days, and while that sentiment might carry through on ‘Chandelier’ and ‘Burn The Pages’ much of 1000 Forms Of Fear feels like the victim rather than the victorious. That is to say there’s a stark lyrical depth here that was written to be easily digestible for the masses.

Sia knows a thing or too about personal heartbreak though. She’s been through addiction, lost her boyfriend in a freak car accident, and had family issues amongst other troubles. While nothing here resonates quite like ‘Breathe Me’, Sia can make a pop song sound upbeat and infectious as well sad and downtrodden yet still sound genuine at the end of it. She is one of the very few that proves that mainstream pop doesn’t have to be inane 100% of the time. As she sings on ‘Cellophane’; Waiting in on your doorstep, out your day, To deliver me a basket filled with pain”. Elsewhere on ‘Fair Game’ and ‘Free The Animal’ things are less downbeat and more inspired by love, but regardless of the feeling, if there’s a singer that knows how to communicate emotions effectively it’s Sia.

‘Elastic Heart’ Is Still The Best Sia Song We’ve Heard In Years

Although thankfully on the album cut The Weeknd’s Abel Tesfaye isn’t here to meddle in things.

The track was first heard as a contribution to the OST of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and at the time it was Sia’s best example of modern pop. It remains as such and while there was a far greater RnB influence on the first version – much in thanks to both The Weeknd, and Diplo who produced the track – the album version is served far better by leaving Sia alone to her own vocal devices.

‘Straight For The Knife’ Is Sia’s Worst Ballad

And not just in terms of the record, but in fact, ever. It might have more to do with our expectations given the singer has garnered herself a reputation for heartbreaking ballads in the past (for something other than ‘Breathe Me’, see ‘I Go To Sleep’) but ‘Straight For The Knife’ is an overdone and unspectacular mess that is more awkward than it is affecting. That’s not to mention the song’s macabre lines: “You went straight for the knife and I’m prepared to die…”

Verdict: It’s Just A Mainstream Pop Album, But That’s Ok

Given the personal hardships that Sia has experienced over her long career you probably couldn’t find a better candidate for understanding what pop music is all about. The singer-songwriter, after over 20 years in the business, has finally found stable ground and she has a greater excuse for playing it safe than any of her contemporaries.

1000 Forms Of Fear suffers in the same way most other mainstream pop releases do. Musically it’s pretty bland and uninteresting, but it does have a pretty spectacular highlight reel. ‘Chandelier’ is undoubtedly one of the pop songs of the year and along with ‘Big Girls Cry’ and ‘Eye Of The Needle’ amongst others, Sia provides some of the best vocals in the business to override their lack of inventiveness. It’s nowhere near a masterpiece, but relax and let go of your (1000 forms of) fear, that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying Sia’s sixth studio album.

1000 Forms Of Fear is out locally on July 4th via Inertia

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