ARTIST OF THE MONTH: SIA | 1000 FORMS OF FEAR (2014)
“1000 Forms of Fear” was Australian singer Sia’s first album in four years – and her first No. 1 on the Billboard 200 – is the most representative collection of both her quirks and talents. It’s stuffed with more pop hooks than even she and go-to collaborator Greg Kurstin (Pink, Lily Allen) know what to do with, as evidenced on “Free the Animal,” who has to interrupt herself mid-verse to get to the teeth-gnashing chorus practically. But there’s also plenty of emotional depth and moments of uncomfortable intimacy, like the melancholy ballad “Cellophane,” which hints at a friend preventing her attempted suicide shortly after the release of 2010’s “We Are Born.” With so many outstanding song credits under her belt, it’s no surprise Sia’s sixth studio album is chock-full of hits. From its start with the single “Chandelier” to its end with “Dressed In Black,” the singer/songwriter has managed to create one of her best releases. Sia’s already stellar vocals soar even higher through the 12-song effort, giving her powerful lyrics the perfect vehicle to drive themselves into the hearts of fans.
"1000 Forms of Fear" isn’t quite the emotionally charged endeavour it wants to be. “Straight for the Knife” seems to confront her past suicidal state directly, but the relatively straightforward melody of the ballad and the lackadaisical delivery keep the song from being profoundly moving; instead of nestling safely into the middle-of-the-road pop, Sia seems so focused on rising above. Some songs on the collection do manage this. “Hostage” is an upbeat throwback to decades past as if electronic dance music never existed and doing a fast, fun, rock and roll song was still commonplace for a pop singer—it kind of rules. “Elastic Heart,” which previously used The Weeknd and Diplo to perfect ends, allowing them to enhance her presence, manages to work in a less-guest-indebted variation. Of the slow songs, “Eye of the Needle” addresses her polarizing vocal ability with clenched fists, allowing her the freedom to wail unintelligibly as much as she wants and somehow make it work. Simplicity and predictability aren’t always negatives in pop, as long as some other areas make up for the songwriting’s struggles. The lead single “Chandelier” might exemplify the disconnect between Sia’s detractors and supporters. Yes, it is an exciting pop song in that it comes across as relaxed and charged simultaneously, but, you know, on the other hand, it sounds like Evanescence. There is a cheeseball element to Sia’s album here that pops up again on the over-the-top “Feed the Animal” and “Fire Meet Gasoline,” where the simplicity and predictability don’t have any particular saving grace. They exist solely to be in a movie trailer or an NBA on TNT promo or something like that, and they weigh down the collection with their dead weight.
When listening to "1000 Forms Of Fear," you can hear how strong Furler’s influence is on the pop stars with whom she works. On “Diamonds,” Rihanna’s voice sounds transformed, with the diphthongs coming out as if her mouth was being manipulated to move in a foreign way. (The tracks from Christina Aguilera’s "Bionic" that Furler co-wrote and acted as “vocal producer” have a similar feel.) “Chandelier,” the opener of "1000 Forms Of Fear," has a thudding beat identical to “Diamonds.” Still, more importantly, Furler’s voice curls around each syllable, rendering some of the lyrics nearly unrecognizable as obscure words. While fear does showcase some brassy belting similar to the kind she lent to “Titanium” and “Wild Ones,” Sia’s voice elsewhere shows off its weirder side, stretching words to their pronounceable limits, turning stanzas into Silly Putty. It takes a bit of getting used to, but once it clicks, it makes "Fear" conceptually more robust; it’s a lot easier, after all, to sing of all those ways "Fear" can manifest itself when the words used to describe the emotion can only be understood after deep listening.
Lush, dark production abounds on "1000 Forms Of Fear," compliments of Greg Kurstin, who’s recently worked with similarly complex pop stars like Tegan & Sara and Pink. "Fear" sounds like a chunk of the human emotional spectrum committed to record, Echoing his collaborations with those artists. It’s an album designed for playing late at night; even peppier tracks like the popping-piston “Burn The Pages” and the jittery “Hostage” have a darkness to them. That darkness might not make Sia the world’s hugest pop star, but it sure makes her one of its more compelling ones.