The Australian singer-songwriter Sia Furler has had one of her works score the ending of a prestige TV show; she’s released five studio albums, a few live sets, and a greatest-hits album. But 1000 Forms Of Fear represents a new phase in Furler’s career: This is her first album since becoming a Billboard-cover-worthy hitmaker, thanks to the metaphor-heavy songs she’s written for some of pop’s biggest names: Rihanna’s “Diamonds,” Ne-Yo’s “Let Me Love You,” David Guetta’s “Titanium,” and Flo Rida’s “Wild Ones,” to name a few.
Furler’s recent New York Times Magazine profile talked about how she writes “high concept” songs organized around a central metaphoric object, as in “Diamonds,” “Titanium,” and Britney Spears’s “Perfume.” 1000 Forms Of Fear has a few songs that could be grouped with those: the military-march piano ballad “Eye Of The Needle,” the hazy “Cellophane,” the defiant “Fire Meet Gasoline” (which also sounds like the album’s biggest potential hit, thanks to its flaming central metaphor and song-closing “eh”s). But the verses on some of these tracks are more cutting; references to mental instability and pills help inch back the curtain surrounding the notoriously reclusive Furler.
Listening to 1000 Forms Of Fear, you can hear how strong Furler’s influence is on the pop stars with whom she works. On “Diamonds,” Rihanna’s voice sounds transformed, with the diphthongs coming out as if her mouth was being manipulated to move in a foreign way. (The tracks from Christina Aguilera’s Bionic that Furler co-wrote and acted as “vocal producer” on have a similar feel.) “Chandelier,” the opener of 1000 Forms Of Fear, has a thudding beat similar to “Diamonds,” but more importantly Furler’s voice curls around each syllable, rendering some of the lyrics nearly unrecognizable as discreet words. While Fear does showcase some brassy belting similar to the kind she lent to “Titanium” and “Wild Ones,” Sia’s voice elsewhere shows off its weirder side, stretching words to their pronounceable limits, turning stanzas into Silly Putty. It takes a bit of getting used to, but once it clicks it makes Fear conceptually stronger; it’s a lot easier, after all, to sing of all those ways fear can manifest itself when the words used to describe the emotion can only be understood after deep listening.
Lush, dark production abounds on 1000 Forms Of Fear, compliments of Greg Kurstin, who’s recently worked with similarly complex pop stars like Tegan & Sara and Pink. Echoing his collaborations with those artists, Fear sounds like a chunk of the human emotional spectrum committed to record. It’s an album designed for playing late at night; even peppier tracks like the popping-piston “Burn The Pages” and the jittery “Hostage” have a darkness to them. That darkness might not make Sia the world’s hugest pop star, but it sure makes her one of its more compelling ones.