We cannot ignore the fact that a lot has happened since SIA‘s last record. Not only has she collaborated with french Superstar-Discjockey DAVID GUETTA and American rapper FLO RIDA, she is also responsible for the latest international smashers of pop music’s most succsessful ladies these days (including RIHANNA, BRITNEY SPEARS or BEYONCE. Just to mention a few.). While working on tones of other projects, there was still time to produce an own record.
Longtime fans of the lovely and now well known singer are surely dying for some new stuff, recent followers should be more curious to find out more about the person behind the hits. So the interesting question is, can SIA satisfy both crowds?
Let’s make it short and clean for one side: Those who know SIA for her work with major label artists or airplay-tracks like Clap Your Hands or the LP’s first official release Chandelier will be very happy with the album. They will get strong and well produced pop-ballads, some up-tempo tracks here and slower numbers there. All accompanied with the singers unique and always impressive voice. The more intersting part is, if you know the artist for years by now and you are common with her former work. If that’s the case, 1000 Forms Of Fear will be an exciting, but difficult journey.
Listening through SIA‘s albums is comparable to a curing process. It started in 2001, when the singer released her second LP, entitled Healing Is Difficult. The lyrics dealt with the death of her boyfriend, the result was a mixture of electro beats and soulish vocals. Two years later, there was her third record, Colour The Small One. Once again the singer filled it with deep and honest texts, but her sound got more structure. All in all it reminded more of an alternative orchestra project, recorded in a private basement studio. It spawned one of SIA‘s most famous and brilliant pieces, Breathe Me, in which she fights loneliness and self-hatred.
It took another four years until her next album was out and back then it seemed like the singer finally started to feel better. Some People Have Real Problems sounded playful, brighter and melodies got catchier. Even the themes got more optimistic: In Little Black Sandals the singer thanks her feet for walking her away from problems. It was also the first time she got international attention with her music, topping the Australian Independent Album Charts and reaching the top 30 in the US. We Are Born, released in 2010 was the perfect contradiction to her former records: colorful, danceable, (mostly) positive and straight to the pop direction.
The question arises: how did the experiences of the past years influence her own music? Lyrically, 1000 Forms Of Fear is 100% good old SIA. As the title might reveal, she goes back to her darker side. Weakness, desperation and big struggles are returning points. Even when it is hidden sometimes. But that is her biggest talent.
First single and opener Chandelier shows exactly the root the singer choose on this album. Dramatic vocals (the high notes in powerful choruses might be her best by now) which always sound honest, cool and straight from the heart. In general, she sings about a never ending party life, but you have to read, or rather listen, between the lines: this is a song about alcoholism. No more, no less.
SIA does not hesitate to show vulnerability: ‘I don’t care if I don’t look pretty – big girls cry when their heart is breaking’ can be heard in the second track. It is obvious that the artist still writes genius texts, there are tons of metaphors in every song. It is really the most enjoyable part of the journey.
The difficult one might be the sound: The melodies are catchy, the instrumentals are well done and the sound is clear. But it cannot be unheard that Greg Kurstin was the main producer behind the record. There are elements which can be found in almost every chart-breaker of the last few years. Because Kurstin made them.
Big Girls starts out with a short piano interlude. It could be RIHANNA‘s in 2007. Fire Meet Gasoline, another energetic ballad, reminds in the refrain of a rocky version of BEYONCE’s Halo from 2010. It all sounds great, of course, and listeners will be blown away immediately, but some might miss this certain, more individual vibe the singer always had in her music.
Still, there are many great moments on 1000 Forms Of Fear. Tracks like Eye Of The Needle, Free The Animal or (already known) Elastic Heart are all lovely and strong pop-ballads. Hostage, the only faster and happier piece, would also fit perfectly on We Are Born.
The strongest part comes in the end: Cellophane, the most hypnotic track on the record seems more like a slow motion picture than pop music. Its reserved instrumental and scratchiness in the back underlines perfectly the woman’s singing about pain. Dressed In Black starts out with minimalistic sounds, echoed singing in the first verse and keeps getting better from line to line. It is the perfect mix of the artist’s old and new work. Even the one and a half minute long outro does not seem too heavy. Because in the end, no matter how much her sound will change, SIA did not loose her talent to catch people with her unique voice and genius lyrics.
There is no doubt: ‘1000 Forms Of Fear’ is a brilliant and deep pop-record, but after producing lots of pop anthems, SIA’s biggest fear should be her own transformation into an mainstream artist.
NBHAP Rating: 4/5