Music Times writers share an office area of roughly 45 sq. ft, which makes having face-to-face conversations totally impossible. Junk Mail is these millenials' attempt to discuss and review the week's hottest album releases... without needing to look at each other.
This week: Ryan Book, Carolyn Menyes, Kyle Dowling, and Caitlin Carter email back and forth about Sia's 1000 Forms of Fear.
Ryan Book: Maybe it was working with the still grief-riddled Lea Michelle on her debut album. Maybe it was the public panning that her World Cup anthem "We Are One (Ole Ola)" received.
Whatever it was, Sia Furler (from here on out described as Sia) obviously dealt with some darkness between now and 2010, when she released We Are Born. You can compare the album art between that and new release 1000 Forms of Fear and feel it without hearing a note. Hearing the notes only confirms the early diagnosis.
There's pain on this release. Even the first single is deceiving. Swinging on a "Chandelier" should be a YOLO moment, but Sia laments it out loud like someone who's been living in a closet her whole life. It's a statement of regret for things not done, versus those aspired to be done. Listen to her voice break during "Eye of The Needle."
Voices breaking are beautiful to those who appreciate the blues, and this album shares that pained beauty.
Carolyn Menyes: Those things are far more recent than when I imagine the recording for 1000 Forms of Fear took place, but yeah, Sia has dealt with a lot of crap between 2010 and now, notably suicidal idealization and a nasty drug habit stemming from a bipolar diagnosis. But, in my opinion, she's back and better than ever on this new album.
There is pain here, you can hear it in her voice and you can note it in the lyrics. Ryan, if I'm to understand your analysis correctly, you actually have the themes of "Chandelier" totally wrong. I've long championed it as the best pop song of 2014 by far, and it's actually the same sort of misunderstood anti-partying anthem like Kendrick Lamar's "Swimming Pools (Drank)." Her life is a mess, she has no real friends, the music video shows a craphole apartment... it's actually a depressing song set to an amazing, singsong melody. Look at the lyrics again.
That is the power of Sia and why she's such a brilliant songwriter. It's also why this album is great, on one level at least.
Kyle Dowling: I think all of the crap Sia has dealt with over the years comes through largely in this album, and in a strange way, has influenced her to become a better songwriter. I wasn't sure how I'd feel about 1000 Forms Of Fear. I enjoyed the singles I heard, but was skeptical in thinking they would stand as the best. Luckily, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I very much enjoyed most of the tracks on it.
To speak of the voice breaks ... I absolutely love them. I think they bring a sense of raw emotion to the songs. When I first heard them I was for some reason more excited to listen to the album. I'm glad I stuck around ... and not just to be welcomed in on this uber enjoyable email chain with all of you.
Caitlin Carter: Regarding the voice cracks and squeaks, I agree that they add texture and beauty to her songs. These are all songs that she could have easily sold to the queens of pop, but they feel almost too personal to give away. You can tell she connects to what she is singing on a very emotional and intimate level. It's awesome to hear a pop sensible/accessible album that feels real. What a difference it makes to hear a song sung by the person who wrote it.
RB: Plenty of songwriters sell their work to others in order to pay the bills. Sia is blessed to have a voice to associate with her words. I recently referred to her as a "poor man's Rihanna," which, despite the tone, was meant as a compliment.
Hip-hop and R&B has helped usher in an era where the guys behind the tracks are getting attention for the beats they provide, and some have done well with it. And of course some do terribly with it. It'd be nice if Sia could bring about an era of primarily songwriters releasing solo albums, but unfortunately not many have the talent to pull it off. No offense to Dr. Luke, but I'm not sure I want to hear him sing. Kanye West and Timberland don't necessarily need to be the best rappers to release an album thanks to instrumentals they complement their vocals with.
And yeah, I know comparing West's albums to Timberland's is a joke. Sia falls somewhere between the two in terms of quality, but I'm willing to put her far closer to Kanye in terms of ability to wield a double-edged sword.
CM: Oh, Sia is way up there, in my opinion. But I feel like I enjoy 1000 Forms of Fear in general more than you do.
Moving away from Sia's credentials, which we all know are great... what do y'all think of the individual songs on this album? I obviously have shown my deep love for "Chandelier" and will fight on that song to the death, but a lot of other songs hold up.
In an unfortunate way, Sia fell into the popular pop music trope of rolling out all the best music as singles before the album released. "Eye of the Needle" is a beautifully empowering ballad, but I think "Big Girls Cry" is the real second-best song of this album. I particularly love the message of this song that shows the power in being vulnerable, but there's something really classic about the swelling melody in the chorus.
Other than the singles, "Hostage" is a really sunny banger. It reminds me a lot of the kind of music I loved as a kid, and she really belts it out, but we already discussed how wonderful Sia's vocal cracks can be.
KD: For me, "Hostage" takes it ... it's an incredibly fun song. It feels like a great summer song as well -- the perfect "drive to the beach with your friends" type of number. Other than that, I really enjoyed "Fire Meet Gasoline." Not only are there a couple subtle voice breaks we spoke of earlier, but the chorus is undeniably catchy and oddly uplifting, in my opinion.
CC: "Straight For The Knife" was probably my favorite song on the album. "Big Girls Cry" was also a stand-out number for me that I can see blowing up on the radio and "Free the Animal" has cool vocal manipulations that I dig. Honestly, the album as a whole is pretty solid. She has an obvious feel for picking songs that work. There aren't any songs that fall flat for me, though the ones mentioned above are my favorites.
RB: Hard for me to pinpoint particular songs. Sia is highly regarded for her work with hooks but I don't find that any of the tracks here really go for the jugular as you expect from a "Fancy" or "Let It Go" or any pop track that sticks around for months. No doubt Carolyn will disagree with me here, but there is no chart-topper in my opinion. That might be a death sentence coming from the mouth of a promoter but I buy into 1000 Forms of Fear as an album. It won't generate massive singles and I doubt it will appear in next week's Billboard 200 Top 10 roundup. I might even hazard a guess that John Mellencamp's live album will trump it in sales come week-end.
This is why Sia writes songs for Britney Spears. So she can turn out a quality album on the side without needing to hawk singles to tweeners.
CM: Au contraire, Ryan... I actually agree with you. On their own merits, I think these songs could top the charts (and would have if Sia had given "Chandelier" to Rihanna) but with just Sia's name... I don't know if she has the star-power, not like she wants it. People appreciate easily accessible pop, not the actual good stuff. I may feel like the token poptimist for Music Times sometimes, but the old indie snob in me fully realizes the best stuff doesn't always crack the Billboard charts.
This stuff is too full of raw emotion, and not in the Sam Smith "Stay With Me" or John Legend "All Of Me" way because they are not love ballads. Can you imagine a top 10 hit about vulnerability and isolation in 2014? LOL.
KD: I would agree that Sia may not have the star-power to top the charts, but I personally don't think that's a negative thing. I think she's doing her own thing as an artist and doesn't need to succumb to the "chart gods" because the truth is what she's churning out is pure quality. Quality sh*t, indeed, I say.
CC: I also don't think she cares about the charts. She knows she can make hits, but this album was for her. I think with all of the TV appearances she's made and the fact that her name is starting to get out there as a solo artist, this album has a shot at making it on the list. A good song is a good song. I don't know how much star power you need as long as it gets radio play and ears on it. Think of all the no-names that find their way to the Top 40.
RB: Stellar songwriting makes for an impressive album overall. Who would've seen that coming from someone like Sia?
CM: I think we all could have seen this coming from Sia... or at least we should have. Pop's most elusive star has managed to craft one of the most solid and consistent albums of the year. I'll be swinging to this for months to come!
KD: I think this is a solid album. It's filled with emotion and proves to be one of my favorite records of 2014 so far. I think it'll be one on my Spotify playlists for quite some time.
CC: I think I underestimated Sia going into this album, but she definitely delivered. It was raw, finely crafted and well written. I hope she can figure out a way to have a successful career as a solo artist while staying out of the limelight. We'll just have to see.