A change of direction for the Australian singer, here presenting post-Gaga pop.
Chris Lo 2010-09-28
Sia is a woman in demand. Since releasing her solo debut OnlySee in 1997, the Australian singer-songwriter (full name Sia Furler) has become as renowned for her covers and collaborations as for her studio output. She has contributed extensive vocals for UK ambient electronic duo Zero 7, performed a duet of You’re the One that I Want with Beck, sung backing vocals for Flight of the Conchords and even co-wrote tracks for the latest Christina Aguilera album.
While her solo material on records like 2004’s Colour the Small One and 2008’s Some People Have Real Problems shares anti-folk qualities with the likes of Regina Spektor and Feist, new album We Are Born propels Sia into a new arena of polished dance-pop shared by the likes of Ke$ha, Little Boots and (whisper it) Lady Gaga. The plaintive piano lines and tremulous murmured vocals have been thrown to the four winds in favour of a brash, fun-loving disco aesthetic, with all the associated benefits and disappointments.
The downsides are obvious. Fans who have connected with the autobiographical vulnerability of Sia’s earlier recordings will likely be sorely disappointed. Tracks like Bring Night, You’ve Changed and single Clap Your Hands are undeniably air-headed when weighed against past songs like Breathe Me and Soon We’ll Be Found. Greg Kurstin’s candied production gives the songs a satisfying bottom end but often buries Sia’s gorgeous voice – her chief asset – under a collapsing wall of sound.
Accusations of cynical trend-chasing should be stowed, however. Sia is clearly a songwriter with a growing fascination for the sparkling pop song, and We Are Born shows she has a knack for it. The album throws soaring choruses (Cloud, Stop Trying) and danceable guitar lines (some of which come courtesy of guest guitarist Nick Valensi of The Strokes) at the listener with such breathless frequency that it’s impossible to avoid giving in to the album’s finest moments. We Are Born’s set also ends strongly with a cover of Madonna’s Oh Father, which converts a somewhat overwrought power ballad into a more intimate portrait.
There’s definitely a place for We Are Born in our post-Gaga pop landscape. The album’s accessible tunes might not stand up to in-depth analysis, but they stand a good chance of lighting up cheesy club nights everywhere.