Wednesday, November 2, 2016

CD Odyssey Disc 931: Sia

Careful readers will note that I’ve corrected my Thin Lizzy album review to indicate that I have seven of their albums, not six. I had another one I’d forgotten about still languishing in my new music section waiting for a proper listen. Full disclosure: I mail ordered an eighth on Sunday (“Black Rose: A Rock Legend”) and it has already arrived!

All of this is a timely reminder that I need to listen to my new music with a bit more regularity, so this next review is another album rolled directly from my “recent acquisitions” section under Rule #5.

Disc 931 is….1000 Forms of Fear
Artist: Sia

Year of Release: 2014

What’s up with the Cover? One of Sia’s wigs, minus Sia herself. I think not showing her face is her thing, or so I remember from an episode of American Idol.

Go ahead and judge me for that last comment – then look into your own soul and find that terrible show that you secretly enjoy. At least mine is now mercifully cancelled.

How I Came To Know It: With my proclivity for music buying it is hard to find me something I don’t already have, so when Sheila gets me music for my birthday or Christmas present she gets creative. This was her trying something she’d heard good things about to see if I’d like it.

And since I’m going to be saying some lukewarm things about this record, it is worth pointing out that Sheila has a pretty solid track record. She bought me the Rolling Stones’ classic “Sticky Fingers,” an awesome Bob Seger compilation and introduced me to Nick Cave’s “Grinderman” project. All great stuff.

How It Stacks Up:  Sia has seven studio albums to her credit but I’ve just got this one. Consequently I can’t really stack it up.

Ratings: 2 stars but almost 3

Sometimes an album can be good but just not good for you, and Sia’s “1000 Forms of Fear” is one of those records. I have hard time understanding what she’s saying (literally) and I get frustrated by the production values. I like most kinds of music, but the power pop vibe packaged like this is just not my thing.

There’s a lot to recommend this album (even though I won’t be). Sia has a powerhouse voice and the bones of these songs (both lyrically and musically) are measurably more thoughtful than a lot of the pop pablum currently being offered up to young girls, so kudos to Sia for that. Also, she made this album at the age of 39, proving pop stars don’t have to be 20 to be relevant and cool.

The record starts on a high, with the powerful “Chandelier” a song about alcohol abuse which soars in the chorus and captures the unbalanced quality of excess drinking through the verses. It is a reminder that the hilarious person at that party could just be someone with a problem.

Unfortunately, the whole album isn’t “Chandelier” and outside of it and 2-3 other songs, there is a step down in quality. That step isn’t sizable, but it is big enough that it was enough for me to notice all the things that bugged me.

Like a lot of modern pop, the production is seriously overwrought with so many layers the musicians are almost an afterthought. I like music hard and I like it soft, but I like clean lines. They make cars look good, and they make songs sound better. When Sia lets the song shine through – as she does on “Big Girls Cry” and “Eye of the Needle” – it really works, but too often studio effects on both the instruments and her voice get in the way of the song.

Sia’s voice has an easy power that sits in the back of her throat, giving a bluesy rasp to music that is pretty far removed from the blues. It reminded me of someone I’d heard before but couldn’t place until finally it came to me – Taylor Dayne! Taylor Dayne had some minor hits in the late eighties, and the one that always stuck with me was “I’ll Be Your Shelter.” “I’ll Be Your Shelter” was a guilty pleasure for me in the day, partly because I liked the song but also because the video featured Taylor Dayne in a short skirt. Ahem…but I digress…

The point is that Taylor Dayne sang a bit like Sia, the main difference being that I could always understand what Dayne was saying. On “1000 Forms of Fear” Sia often comes off as an unintelligible throat warble. I could usually pick up the chorus (but not always) but whole verses were impossible to fathom. Again, I mostly blame the production, where there is so much going on your ear can’t pick out individual words.

“1000 Forms of Fear” isn’t a bad record, and if you like power pop I think she is one of the better options out there. If this record were acoustic and had Sia singing along with just piano as accompaniment I’d be all-in. As it is, it was a bit of a disappointment.

Best tracks: Chandelier, Eye of the Needle, Straight for the Knife

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