On Sia’s We Are Born, the Australian chanteuse switches gears from her more somber early work and creates an infectiously happy dance-pop album. There are many factors contributing to the album’s lighthearted jouissance — Furler is in a serious relationship with JD Samson (of Le Tigre); she was inspired by her icons Cyndi Lauper and Madonna; the songs were co-written by Dan Carey; Nick Valensi (The Strokes) plays electric guitar; and the album was produced by Greg Kurstin, who’s produced similarly energetic albums for the likes of Lily Allen. From its insanely catchy first single, “Clap Your Hands”, to the dance-command that is “Bright Night”, this is an album for happy times. Better still, this is an album that creates happy times as Sia cuts her teeth on a jangly record unlike anything she would have created during her days with Zero 7.
While the music seems tailor-made for Sia’s voice, it’s that distinctive voice which drives the album. Moreover, Sia’s delivery of her endlessly melodic lyrics sets her apart from many of her contemporaries. While some songs fall victim to a formula of speak-singing verses and soaring choruses (even “Clap Your Hands” and the album opener, “The Fight”), that formula works and even lends this record a cohesive quality it might otherwise lack. The downside to that is such cohesiveness can also make for monotony, and by the time listeners get to the ninth track, “Cloud”, the formula is old, and there is a thirst for greater variety, as well as fresher sounding songs.
Sia’s tip of her hat to Madonna and Lauper is obvious throughout the album, particularly on “Never Gonna Leave Me”, which could easily be a lost ’80s track. The same could be said for the most rocking song, “Bright Night”. With its repeated “bring night / bring night on / maybe if I’m lucky I’ll end up in your arms” sung over hand-clap-esque synths and electric guitar fun, this is another track full of ’80s glory. Sia even covers Madonna’s “O Father”, though it unfortunately falls flat due to schmaltzy music and surprisingly thin vocals.
Though this album is bombastic enough that “understated” is a relative term, the understated tracks are some of the most successful. “Stop Trying” is a simple pop song: “We like you / this is a game already won / stop trying”, goes the chorus as it flows seamlessly through the verses. “Be Good to Me”, in which Sia channels Amy Winehouse, is more of a ballad, and it helps showcase the more gravelly end of Furler’s powerful pipes. “Codependent”, while still an eighties-inflected dance song, is still a refreshing change from the formula which informs much of the album. An album highlight, “I’m In Here” is classic Sia, her slow, warbling voice in its classic form.
It’s nice to see that Sia can leave behind her moody, winsome sound, here. This is a fine album for easy summer listening, but the formulaic aspect of the songs keep it from being a classic. But that doesn’t mean this record isn’t still a lot of fun.