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Album Review: Sia miscasts herself on ‘This is Acting’

Rating: B-

I’m not mad. I’m disappointed.

Sia’s new album “This is Acting,” is one-third a fantastic pop album, one-third empowering manifesto and one-third blatant mockery.

But mockery is what Sia attempts on “This is Acting.” Singing songs primarily written for other artists — songs rejected by some of today’s biggest superstars, including Adele, Rihanna and Shakira — Sia makes no intent of being true to her own self, something we come to miss as we progress through the tracks.

“This is Acting” is Sia’s follow-up to 2014’s “1000 Forms of Fear,” which spawned the hits “Chandelier” and “Elastic Heart.” Chart-topping as that album may have been, its true beauty was in its lyrics, which dealt with heartbreak, alcoholism and depression, and offered a window into Sia’s mind. Despite covering her face when performing, we came to know Sia as someone beyond the songwriter to the stars. She assumed stardom in her own right, a newfound global prominence that catapulted her into the eyes, ears and hearts of millions.

But two years later, “This is Acting” pales in comparison. We fail to hear Sia as her own person. Her distinct voice becomes clouded by lyrics that don’t suit her persona, lost in the woods but unable to properly call out for help.

Perhaps this is no more apparent than in “Move your Body,” a Shakira reject that is undeniably a club banger, but an awkward barrage of brash dance beats and muddled yodeling. Sia has made it clear she tried to emulate Shakira’s tone and style for her own vocal performance, which was undeniably her first mistake. Her second mistake was thinking we would believe her when she sings, “Your body’s poetry, speak to me. Won’t you let me be your rhythm tonight?”

I don’t buy it.

In “Sweet Design,” undoubtedly the album’s worst track, Sia utilizes sharp, attacking vocals over painful 90’s hip-hop beats, uttering deplorable and downright strange phrases — among them: “My junk hypnotise the whole room, Bump, bump, I’ma rub it up on you. My peach, juicy soft and so delicious.” It’s no wonder “Sweet Design” was a reject.

“This is Acting” is not all bad. Its lead single, “Alive,” which was written for and with Adele but did not make Adele’s “25” album, is not only an anthem in the literal sense, but in the spiritual. Sia sings, “I found solace in the strangest place — Way in the back of my mind,” a lyric we wouldn’t expect, nor picture a performance of, from Adele. We get the sense Sia wrote “Alive” for herself.

“Bird Set Free” leads the album in a proclamation of self-confidence, an ode to finding one’s voice and standing up for one’s beliefs. It’s probably the most empowering song on the album, but not the most personal. That would be “Reaper,” co-written with the likes of Kanye West, which discusses salvation and the desire to keep on living. With a mid-tempo drum beat, soothing strings and a Sia who wounds confident and happy, it’s the most approachable — and no doubt the best — track on the album.

These successes aside, “This is Acting” is not Sia’s album. While “Reaper” may be the most personal track in sound and lyric, it was written for Rihanna, and Sia claimed no emotional attachment to the song in a December Rolling Stone interview. Perhaps we should be proud of Sia for making the most out of rejection; there is something to be said for coming out clear-headed amidst being turned down by pop’s biggest superstars. But sadly, the truth is many of these songs were rejects for a reason, and Sia’s roles on “This is Acting” feel forced, uncomfortable and miscast.

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