Australia-born Sia Kate Isobelle Furler nearly hit the big time in 2000 with the top 10 hit Taken For Granted, which mixed the beautiful strings from Prokofiev‘s Romeo and Juliet with her breathy drawl. Her debut LP Healing Is Difficult saw her being hailed as the “next big R&B thing”, she added vocals to two tracks on Zero 7‘s Simple Things, and went touring with them – not bad for a novice who did not listen to music other than in lifts and in supermarkets. Then, she disappeared for three years, momentarily stunned by her success and attempting a modicum of healing after the tragic death of her boyfriend.
This second LP brings in an altogether different hue: the R&B is entirely absent and it draws one in, with feelings laid exposed. Many have compared this offering to Dido, but it seems, in aspects at least, far superior to the undemanding pop produced by the famous rich one. Certainly, the meandering melody hints at complexities Dido can only dream of.
The LP begins very barely with sparse electronica that holds within it a simple melody that unfurls to unexpected angles, as Sia muses on being just “one single grain of sand” in the grand scheme of things. Death permits this unwelcome insight to insignificance, of chance altering lives and Sia speaks of her loss of control with a simple beauty.
Sundays’ lyrics are so folded in vocal slurs and affectation it’s difficult to make most of them out, and interest would certainly be added if one could. However, the tune eases along in a slow fairground ride, more straightforward pop manner, but it still manages to charm.
Sia pays homage to Tori Amos, as so many do, in Breathe Me. There is basic piano and some careening vocals, which are almost too breathy as we hear her breathing out and the click of her dry mouth. “Be my friend, hold me, wrap me up, unfold me, I am small and needy, warm me up…” errs on the side of early poetic expression, but still just makes the grade in unhappy vulnerability. However, the largesse of the ending is unnecessary, it doesn’t need to be bigged-up; its allure is in starkness.
Every song brings in a new leading instrument it seems, and The Bully introduces acoustic guitar for an unassuming musing, which surprises as it was co-written with Beck. The point of interest lies in Sia asking for forgiveness for being a bully – you hope the casualty of her childhood behaviour hears the song. However, the vocal is very low and although the wish is for Sia to shout her regret, to really show her vocal power in remorse, going low isn’t the way to do it because her voice hasn’t the depth and it seems to peter away rather than climax in repentance.
Don’t Bring Me Down is an absolute gem. The key changes in the chorus are ravishing, cascading up and up and up, musically and emotionally. This song alone showcases Sia’s talent and knocks the Dido comparisons far away. Although sparing of notes, the delicate texture is haunting and compelling.
Butterflies is pleasantly interesting but leads to a lull in the following two tracks. Moon and The Church of What’s Happening Now repeat ideas already introduced and appear undeveloped and repetitive. This seems to encapsulate this album with its moments of enchantment that intoxicate, interspersed with a reliability of vague charm that is disappointingly ordinary.
Sia says herself that this album is a slow burner, but is honest, and this can only be agreed with. The maturity of some of the melodies shows intelligence and talent. The themes of guilt and of being lost are laudable – however, the expectations brought to bear by the better songs are met only on occasion. Given time and space to further develop her own voice Sia can only become wonderful. Here’s hoping she does.