Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Author's Playlist – Generic Review of the I Am Titanium Sequel

I’ve been getting a lot of flack lately from people who wish me to abscond with my personal, excessively verbose writing style in favor of something more palatable and mainstream.  As the old song goes, be careful what you wish for, ’cause you just might get it all, and then some you don’t want...  Oh, my head. Sorry to bring that one back from the grave.

I drew up this article in 4-5 hours after streaming the album once and reading a bunch of professional, normal music reviews on Amazon and various news websites which took care to tell me everything I might expect from the new Ed Sheeran release so long as I knew not just who David Gray, Justin Timberlake, Jason Mraz, Damien Rice, and Eminem are but also how they sounded on fill in whatever old, outplayed album the critic thought sounded like the contemporary one he was actually supposed to be reviewing.  I hope this mimicry will serve as an enjoyable and informative change of pace.



Up until the release of Sia Furler’s 1000 Forms of Fear, the prolific 39-year-old Australian singer-songwriter has been working mostly under the radar, keeping a low profile with independent LPs like the underappreciated We Are Born and busying herself with writing songs for the likes of the masters Britney Spears, Ke$ha, Beyonce, Jennifer Lopez, and Katy Perry.

The first time the openly gay artist made a truly significant dent on the international music scene was with Swedish House D.J. David Guetta on the 2012 feat. song “Titanium”, a soaring and inspirational power ballad about being just that. With its strong, metaphorical lyrics about shooting, deflecting, and recovering from bullets, the collaboration ultimately landed on many critics’ best-of-the-year lists and engendered more covers possibly than any song up to that.

Accordingly so, the first question most people will occur to ask of 1000 Forms of Fear is whether it lives up to the expectations set by “Titanium”.  The answer, equally predictably, is: Of course not!  But why ever should that deter from you listening to it?  When you set the standard of comparison as high as “Titanium”, it’s only inevitable that the follow-up is going to fall short, but that hardly makes it an unworthy album on its own merits.  On the contrary, this latest record made with producer Greg Kurstin is a powerhouse piece of uplifting electronic pop that’s guaranteed to finally elevate its artist to the superstar status she deserves.

The opening single “Chandelier”, a poignant and magnificent power ballad, is already a hit on Top 40 Radio, carried by Sia’s big pipes, deliberately garbled enunciation, artistically Auto-tuned vocals, and monotonous, personally inspired lyrics about the emptiness of a party-centered lifestyle.  It’s lines like “1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, drink. 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, drink. 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, drink.” that demonstrate the impressive depth of Sia’s songwriting ability, which also stands out on tracks like “Straight for the Knife”, “Free the Animal”, and “Fire Meets Gasoline”.

The first of these, a sexy and vulnerable jazz number that evokes the more iconic works of Sara Bareilles and Fiona Apple, provocatively compares the throes of love to the abusive hand of a sadistic pervert who goes straight for the you-know-what and exacts such pains that the singer can’t help but relish every second of the treatment.  (At least I think it’s supposed to be a comparison; in a day where 50 Shades Whatever can become a bestseller, it’s hard to tell whether such musical analogies are in actuality analogies or literal accounts.)  Sia masterfully links a series of emotionally bare confessions together that appropriately make less and less common sense as they progress, “Put on my best dress / I wanted to impress / I put makeup on / put a bow in my hair / wore pretty underwear / hoping you might take it off???” Her believable lyrics are thankfully far from the most articulate or poetic, and turns of phrase like “If your goal was to love, you scored an epic miss” reaffirm the honesty of her balladry.

“Free the Animal” is almost a direct continuation of “Straight for the Knife”, commanding more entrancing BDSM imagery but opting this time for synthesized Beyonce-esque, dance beats and ridiculously excessive auto-tune instead of synthesized R&B beats and ridiculously excessive auto-tune.  Sia uses just as much pitch correction and/or destruction software as her mainstream competitor Ke$ha but always employs it artistically and thoughtfully.  Anyone who’s seen her perform live without lip-sync may testify that this woman can belt with the best of them.

“Fire Meets Gasoline” is loaded with mesmerizing symbolism and original visualizations of love as a fiery force that burns, burns, burns, burns in its passion.  “Burn with me tonight, burn with me tonight… I can barely breathe / fire meets gasoline,” she intones amid a sea of backing vocals.  But it’s not this or the Catching Fire-featured “Elastic Heart” that takes the cake for the record’s best offering, as Sia truly reserves the best for last.  The final and longest track “Dressed In Black” is a powerful and rousing anthem of pride, taking us to church with a protracted outro that repeats something like twenty times with no variation and exchanges real words for choral chants and orchestral gravitas observed only in modern classics like “Set Fire to the Rain”.  Sia clearly draws from her own sexuality in the writing of this piece and the results should be deeply moving to anyone black, white, young, old, straight, or gay.  Filling out the rest of the album are relatively safe but far from expendable tracks like “Eye of the Needle” and “Cellophane” that provide a balancing dose of totally vintage Sia.

If I had to gripe about the album, it’d be over the repetitiveness of the sound.  Without a doubt, Sia does a very commendable job mixing different genres and influences throughout 1000 Forms, carving out a unique and fully original style that’s a kind of intersection between the collective works of Beyonce, Katy Perry, Amy Winehouse, Ke$ha, Lady Gaga, Sara Bareilles, Miley Cyrus, Billie Holiday, Demi Lovato, Shakira, Colbie Caillait, Avril Lavigne, Lana Del Rey, Christina Aguilera, Kelly Clarkson, Ellie Goulding, Nina Simone, Britney Spears, Madonna, Celine Dion, P!nk, Rihanna, Paramore, and Mariah Carey, if that makes sense.  If you don’t know what one or two of those people sound like, go give them a listen and return here when you feel you’ve acquired an adequate grasp to understand the sentence I just wrote.

Unfortunately, in spite of Sia’s very diverse and accomplished pool of inspirations, 1000 Forms ends up sounding rote and tired by the half-hour mark due to the redundancy of certain production choices.  Like a lot of full-length albums, it falls into the trap of relying on one person’s voice for the whole of the run time, and while listening to Sia’s auto-tuned shrieks for a track at a time is perfectly enjoyable, listening to her for nearly an hour of music in a row will unavoidably wear on the consciousness.  The problem with listening to any artist for such a long period of time is that the brain begins to detect patterns in the singer’s voice which allow it to instinctively identify the singer every time, which psychologically leads to monotony and consequently to boredom.  Sia sings like Sia in every song on the record, and as a result – yes – every song sounds the same.

Progressive artists like Pharrell and Pitbull and Jason Derulo have recently made strides to circumvent this weakness of the ADD generation by enlisting certain of their peers to write and sing songs in their place as “features”, but Sia apparently didn’t get the memo, as “Elastic Heart” is the only song on the release to feature guest vocals.

She attempts to break the tedium by liberally throwing high notes and intentionally slurred lines into her tunes, but it’s a largely futile exercise that can’t redeem 1000 Forms from the singularity of her own voice, the continual usage of the same instruments (especially ones that aren’t real), and the recycling of themes about love and sex that are all too common in music generally.  Although the rhythm, tempo, chords, key, arrangement, and lyrical content vary from song to song, the whole album eventually just blurs into one familiar noise and makes you feel – yes – that if you’ve heard one Sia song then you’ve heard them all.

But 1000 Forms of Fear is a fully competent pop album that should nicely complement your summer music hit list (what rhymes with hit list?) along with I Found You In The Summer, We’ll Be a Family, I’m So Fancy, Jay-z’s 99 Problems With Sax, Turn Down For What?!, I Could Be That Guy, and Wiggle Wiggle Wiggle.  Comparative to other hit records in the recent day, I’d say the quality of this one falls somewhere between Ellie Goulding’s Halcyon and Lady Gaga’s Artpop while being roughly equal to Beyonce Knowles’ Beyonce and Mariah Carey’s Me. I Am Mariah… The Exclusive Chanteuse.  Its lyrics aren’t as deep and empowering as “Titanium”, but Sia’s undeniably dance-ready beats and thought-provoking songwriting places her squarely in the same league as the pros and renders her a worthy time investment for anybody who hasn’t already listened to Ed Sheeran’s epic sophomore release X – arguably the best album of the last five years if not for The Civil Wars and Halo 3: ODST – a hundred times or more.

Simply put, if you liked “Titanium feat. Sia”, you’re going to love 1000 Forms of Fear.  Rarely does one see a seasoned artist taking so many scary risks to broaden her musical horizons, but Sia manages to pull it off while still retaining the trademark sound we know and love.  Thankfully, this is both 100% Sia and 100% not-Sia, and we can rest assured it should appeal to fans of both.  No matter how many times life shoots her down, Sia gets right back up, and this album is just as much a triumph.

Final rating: 2.7 stars out of 4 or 81/100 points
Buy… if you like Beyonce, Katy Perry, Ke$ha, Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus, Rihanna, Shakira, or other female artists I’m going to assume you’re familiar with
Don’t buy… if you don’t like Beyonce, Katy Perry, Ke$ha, Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus, Rihanna, Shakira, or other female artists I’m going to assume you’re familiar with

This video is perfect.  Saying nothing of his dramatic vocal range and feel for the lyrics, the man doesnt loose his hold on the camera once.  Oh, and there’s a violin-playing girl in it too!

Download: Chandelier (the Postmodern Jukebox & Puddles the Clown version)
Don’t download: The whole album.
For musically and lyrically invigorating Girl Power, the Author recommends: Most everything by Sara Bareilles; A Fine Frenzy’s One Cell In The Sea; P!nk; select singles and Red by Taylor Swift; Enya’s Watermark; the Dog Days and Snow White Huntsman songs by Florence and the Machine; some of Birdy’s stuff; Poker Face and Bad Romance by Lady Gaga; all the Lorde songs that aren’t played to death on the radio; and, well, Lindsey, obviously
For avowedly junky and vacuous but nonetheless catchy and mostly entertaining Girl Power, the Author recommends: Sia’s 1000 Forms of Fear, which he honestly expected he would despise but found surprisingly tolerable all things considered

2 comments:

  1. Dude, did u even listen to this album or is this all like some kind of insider joke because i can't even tell? like u keep talking about Kesha and Katy Perry and Beyonce but i don't even know who those peeple are but all I want to know is if this music is worth my money.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If you couldn't tell whether I even listened to the album or not, that means my generic review was a success.

      To answer your questions (I'm presuming the last sentence is an implicit question), yes and yes and no.

      Delete

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