Sia - 1000 Forms of Fear
Fans of Sia Furler (or simply Sia in that I-only-need-one-name popstar tradition) have waited four years for the Australian native's comeback. However, despite no solo material since 2010's We Are Born, her 'comeback' follows a colourful few years in the not-so-wilderness where she's managed to make a bigger name for herself than she ever did with her own records. Her past dalliances with Zero 7 were a distant memory as she teamed up with Flo Rida and David Guetta for commercial chart glory, whilst her penchant for canny pop songs saw her become the Cathy Dennis of the Twitter generation by helming hits for Rihanna, Katy Perry, Eminem and everyone in the Top 40 phonebook. Suffice to say, new album 1000 Forms of Fear faces the unenviable task of satisfying long-term fans of the singer's eclectic pop style, whilst also introducing new unfamiliar listeners and convincing them she's as good (better, for sure) as the mega-watt pop princesses she writes for. Perhaps that title refers to the fact she's bricking it a bit.
Well, no need. On first listen, fans from the mid-noughties may miss the chilled electro-jazz chanteuse promised by Colour the Small One and it's safe to say that the idiosyncrasies that have infused her best music do seem toned down somewhat. While 1000 Forms of Fear may be a transition, it is still undoubtedly a statement record and Sia is clearly intent on making her individual mark on modern pop music, so it's by no means playing safe - she's still playing with the pop palette and has fun mixing colours that no Britney or Katy would think to on their own.
Exhibit A: lead single 'Chandelier', which you may dismiss as a dutty Rih-Rih cast-off during its first twenty seconds, but stick around for the mighty payoff. Its heart-shaking, sky-scraping chorus is a spiritual successor to Robyn's 'Dancing On My Own' in that it is a rallying-call for the heartbroken to drown in their sorrows and dance, and it has automatically entered the small subsection of songs that this karaoke virgin would be tempted to belt out (badly, of course) after too many tequilas. Somewhere, poor Gaga is having a little cry that this doesn't live on Artpop.
Of course, with a rich hit catalogue like hers, Sia has more than one great single up her sleeve. Nope, she's smarter than that, crafting a pick n' mix of finely crafted potential hits-in-waiting and throwing a Sia-style curveball every time you think she might just be close to selling out. So there are dramatic, barnstorming heartbreak ballads like 'Big Girls Cry' and 'Eye of the Needle' pulled into check by the anthemic pop choruses of 'Burn the Pages' and 'Fire Meets Gasoline' (the latter a highlight, turning the lyric "I'm burning alive, I can barely breathe" into an ecstatic exclamation of unabashed love). Meanwhile, her contribution to the most recent Hunger Games movie sees her pair up with The Weeknd over the pop-smart production of Diplo and Greg Kurstin for clever, catchy Hollywood-primed pop.
For those missing a bit of the weirdo that's sung in our ears on previous albums, you'll be glad to hear Sia isn't reserving the kook solely for her music videos these days. Atop minimal backing, 'Fair Game' sees her flit from sultry to playful and back again in an instant ("What good is intellect and nerve / If I can't respect any man?"), while the moody 'Cellophane' goes in for Florence levels of banshee-ing. Even better is when she combines her pop and DIY sensibilities, as on 'Hostage' which wants you to jump around in your PJs to its rockin' bubblegum good time.
Even when the whole endeavour threatens to topple in on itself (see the overblown finale 'Dressed in Black'), the vibrancy and vulnerability of Sia's character shines through - and, of course, so does that voice. Emotive and big when it counts, then by turns soft and humorous and even unhinged, Sia has the unique quality that every Simon Cowell and turning-chair telly talent show is trying to find: an awesome voice. Thank the pop stars that it's finally being heard again... you're gonna hear her roar!