1000 Albums Project

ALBUM 166

1000 Forms of Fear, by Sia
Suggested by Sara-Jane Davies

In film, there’s a well-established idea I like to call the Law of Diminishing Sequels. It suggests that the initial iteration of a thing is likely the best, and that any future iteration or continuation is bound to be nothing more than a weak imitation of the first.

Most people will agree that the first movie in a franchise is likely the best, with any further sequels being uninspired fanfic at best and cynical money-grabbing gobbledegook at worst. If you look at any series – let’s say the horror classic Halloween – what presents as bold and innovative in the first movie has lost all spark and meaning by sequel number eleven.

In music, it’s a little different. It’s unusual for a multi-album artist to have never matched or bettered what can often be a raw and uncultured first release. But as sequencing is largely irrelevant for a musician, while it’s absolutely critical for a story franchise, you’ll find that people have their own “first” albums for a given artist, with the remainder of the back catalogue acting as sequels of sorts. And when you discover fresh new music, it’s hard to recreate that excitement with Albums Two, Three or Four, no matter where they sit in the band’s chronology.

Last week, I “discovered” Sia, when the Randomiser threw out We are Born, her fifth studio album. Today, we have 1000 Forms of Fear, her sixth offering, proving that Sias are like buses… you wait half an hour for one, then two show up together. And while critical consensus is agreed that the later release is much more cultured than her previous work, as it cements her superstar status, I can’t help but feel that it’s a sequel that’s diminished in scope and sound.

But first, there’s Chandelier.

In my review for We Are Born, I felt that the album lacked that one special song to take it over the edge. Basically, I thought it lacked a Chandelier. Well, there’s no such complaint here. Chandelier is a wonderful song, and is almost the soundtrack to an entire generation. The video has been viewed over two billion times on YouTube, so I’ll not bother choosing it as my favourite as you’ve all heard it before. And I wonder how many viewers spectacularly missed the point and think it’s a happy song, rather than the story of a demoralised alcoholic contemplating suicide?

Chandelier has a very contemporary paired-back sound, as if the music is back-seated to a degree, sacrificed at the alter of Sia’s incredible vocal. Indeed, that seems to be design choice throughout the album, and while it’s obvious that Sia’s voice is up to the challenge, I think it’s a disservice to the quirky personality that shines through in We Are Born. The songs seem more polished, more buffed and cultured for a modern audience, with a little less sparkle as a result. Perhaps the only song that retains an oddball quality is my standout choice, Hostage, which is far jollier than the subject matter would suggest.

This is still a raw and personal album, with the final three songs powering us to a fantastic finish, but in preparing herself for super-stardom, Sia has shed a little of what makes her so interesting. But who knows? If I’d heard this before We Are Born, maybe my outlook would be different. I give 100 Forms of Fear another 7/10.

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