Holding on for dear life indeed
Music, like all art, is inherently rooted in social, historical and creative context. There are no real ways to divorce music from the means by which it was produced, and there are even fewer reasons to want to do so. Thus, it would be inadvisable to ignore Sia’s new movie Music while reviewing the soundtrack, and, well… They say bad press is good press, but Sia seems to be determined to push that concept to its logical extreme and go for perhaps some of the worst press imaginable. Through widespread complaints of stereotyping autistic people (who the movie is ostensibly made in support of), pressuring the lead actress into playing a role she was uncomfortable with (filming for this began when she was only 14), and even accusations of blackface, this film seems like it landed in whatever the opposite of a perfect storm is. And, on top of that, for a movie that is themed heavily around music, the soundtrack is… just okay.
This isn’t to say the music in Music is bad. It’s not. Saying that would imply that it left much of an impression at all. It’s competently written, there are no real low points on the list, and there are a few interesting, engaging musical choices. Take the movie’s title track, “Music.” It’s everything one might expect from a eponymous song from a movie like this—a slower, emotional delivery of somewhat bare vocals, really built to tug at the heartstrings. This is a structure that is designed to place emphasis on the lyrics and vocal quality, which is a bit of a problem when it’s really hard to understand what Sia is saying. That’s nothing new—Sia’s delivery of words has always been somewhat muddled and slurred, but oftentimes in the past (and even elsewhere in this soundtrack) it’s covered for by more complex or prominent instrumentals.
Credit where credit is due, “Saved My Life” is a really solid song, with a rhythmic structure including some triplets that almost give the impression of mixed meter. That’s one of the most frustrating things about this soundtrack, a lot of the songs are a lot less deep than they initially appear to be. How great would it be for a movie about music to delve into some more complex musical ideas? To explore polyrhythms, mixed meter, odd time signatures? A good soundtrack should at least embody the themes of the film, and that doesn’t seem to be the case here. There’s no thematic throughline. This feels less like the soundtrack to a movie Sia made than it does a Sia album she happened to make a movie to promote.
“Beautiful Things Can Happen” has some nice sounds to it, with an almost waltz-like feeling and some really comparatively comprehensible lyrics, and well-made harmonizing backing vocals, in general, a high point on the album. A lot of the beautiful parts of this song are a little hard to parse due to Sia’s tendency to squeak or squeal on long, high, held notes, which she’s been doing for some time. She did it on her most popular songs, like “Chandelier,” where it worked because of the nature and subject of the song of leaving it all on the floor, but it doesn’t quite work in this specific context. And it’s not just this song, the same comes out right at the beginning of the album on “Together.” It’s not like she’s incapable of keeping high notes stable and not squeaking—she does as much on “Lie to Me,” which indicates that it’s a deliberate choice.
In general, this soundtrack’s main problem is that it is approached like an album and not a soundtrack. Sia has such a specific niche that it feels inadequate to make a movie about music and only include her vocals. Ultimately, a lot of the soundtrack feels like other stuff Sia has released. “Floating Through Space” is oddly reminiscent of “Cheap Thrills,” and there are shades of “Chandelier” scattered throughout the entire project. Ultimately, at the end of the day, Sia should have saved herself the trouble and written Chandelier 2 like it’s extremely clear she wanted to.