By Allison Stewart
Sia Furler is a pop singer with a soul singer voice that she has never seemed to know quite what to do with. Occasionally Winehouseian (yes, it's a word), a dropout from the Beth Orton School of Depressing Folktronica, Sia has drifted from sort of soul, to sort of pop, to sort of chill-out (the latter as part of a collaboration with down-tempo Brits Zero 7) without ever really landing anywhere interesting.
At least, until now. Her ridiculously entertaining fifth album, "We Are Born," is a giddy homage to '80s pop in all its geeky, much-loved variations. "Born" isn't a Gaga-esque exercise in retro electro that merely nods in the direction of Reagan-era pop, it practically time travels.
Its opening track, "The Fight," is a confectionary delight, a frisky, hand-clappy gem that's Sia's answer to "Girls Just Want to Have Fun." It stakes the album's claim as high-toned aerobics-class music that borrows equally from the Thompson Twins, Olivia Newton-John and "Loco-Motion"-era Kylie Minogue.
"Born" concerns itself mostly with up-tempo pop, but there are equally effective exercises in danceable rock (like "Stop Trying," its Strokes-echoing guitars courtesy of Strokes guitarist Nick Valensi) and octave-stretching R&B ("Be Good to Me").
"We Are Born" succumbs to the dreaded Well Meaning Ballad Syndrome in its back half before righting itself with an almost unrecognizable cover of Madonna's '89 hit "Oh Father." Essayed with Sia's signature drowsy, hiccupy vocals atop a bed of nostalgic synths, it's a 2010 model that out-'80s the original.
Recommended tracks: "The Fight," "Clap Your Hands," "Oh Father"