In the four years since Sia Furler's last studio album, the Aussie singer/songwriter has found success contributing to the popularity of David Guetta and penning ballads for Rihanna (Diamonds), Beyoncé (Pretty Hurts) and Britney (Perfume).
Furler's sixth album reunites her with producer Greg Kurstin but springs from more painful subject matter than the cheery guitar pop of 2010's We Are Born. Inspired by alcoholism, depression and romantic insecurity, the songs are full of disconcerting metaphorical violence (Free The Animal, Straight For The Knife, Hostage, Fire Meet Gasoline) and lighters-to-the-sky melodies designed for maximal power-ballading.
Save for the frisky Hostage - with its Strokesian riff courtesy of that band's guitarist, Nick Valensi - the focus is squarely on Furler's epic voice, and for the most part Kurstin stays out her way. This is a mixed blessing. At times, she sounds refreshingly raw - sultry, a bit jazzy, powerful and occasionally raspy - but loses subtlety when loudly multi-tracked.
This is a top 40 pop record after all, and thus errs toward deafeningly loud vocals that occasionally obliterate some of the year's smartest pop songwriting.
Top track: Chandelier