Album Review: Sia, “Some People Have Real Problems” (2008)

I’m always on the lookout for new music. Even though I have a rather large music collection, I tend to tire of listening to the same music over and over again (except when it comes to my favorites, of course), so it’s not unusual for me to buy random CDs by artists I’ve never heard of- just to try something new.

This was the case when I bought the third album of Australian indie/pop singer, Sia (pronounced “See-ah”). I didn’t know exactly what to expect from looking at the cover of Some People Have Real Problems, but I found the image of Sia making a rainbow on her face interesting, and that, paired with the title of the album and songs, made me buy it.

The disc begins with the soulful tune, Little Black Sandals. Sia’s voice is instantly remarkable; sounding like a sultry mix of contemporaries Regina Spektor and Fiona Apple, with a little taste of Amy Winehouse thrown in. The album’s opener proves to be catchy enough and would make a great radio hit if ever released, though there are far stronger points on the album.

Lentil starts off slower, describing the allure in a former lover (“You were waiting for me, you saw me, you saw me/As I wish the whole world would/You would never hurt me, desert me or work me/For all the things you thought you should”). Though the lyrics and instrumentation pick up towards the chorus, the song continues to really go much of nowhere. It’s certainly pleasant to listen to, but that’s about as far as it goes. Day Too Soon fares a bit better; sounding very similar to something you’d hear on an Adult Contemporary station in the afternoon while driving home from work. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that, and Sia’s vocals during the airy chorus (“Honey I will stitch you/Darling I will fit you in my heart/Honey I will meet you/Darling I will keep you in my heart”) are particularly inviting.

However, the album really begins to reach its high point with You Have Been Loved. The song marks the first ballad on the album, and has quickly become one of my favorites of the moment. The song is very lyrically simplistic, the chorus only consisting of the lines, “You, you will be loved by somebody good/You have been loved”. But the strength lies in the somber melody and Sia’s heart wrenching delivery; she sings like someone who is experiencing the worst sort of bittersweet heartbreak- wanting to still be with her former lover, yet wishing them the best with whoever loves them next. As she sings the last lines of the song, her voice cracks slightly, just giving off more emotion in the already highly emotional song.

Things pick up with the upbeat track, The Girl You Lost To Cocaine. The sound calls to mind old school Motown- a cheery beat backed up with lots of horns and heavy drums- and the lyrics in the chorus (“No I just don’t wanna, so I’m walking away/There is nothing that you can do I will not stay/No I don’t need drama, so I’m walking away/Yeah I am a girl with a lot on her plate”) together create something that would be a perfect summer anthem. Academia has some of my favorite lyrics on the album (“I am a dash and you are a dot/When will you see that I am all that you’ve got/I’m a binary code that you cracked long ago/But to you I’m just a novel that you wish you’d never wrote/I’m greater than x and lesser than y, so why is it/That I still can’t catch your eye?/You’re a cryptic crossword, a song I’ve never heard/While I sit here drawing circles I’m afraid of being hurt”), but the appeal of the song, for me, is the beautiful raspiness of Sia’s voice during the choruses.

Sia Furler in concert (cropped)

Her gorgeous vocals prevail again in the second ballad on the album, I Go To Sleep. The song is again about love lost (“When I look up from my pillow/I dream you are there with me/Though you are far away/I know you’ll always be near to me/I go to sleep/And imagine that you’re there with me”), but the lyrics aren’t as clichéd as most heart break songs typically have become. Sia sings the song again with so much passion, and even if you’ve never been in the same situation that she sings about, you’ll feel completely empathetic as you listen to the song. Playground is musically as fun as the title suggests. A delightfully cheery melody is placed against appropriately carefree lyrics (“I don’t wanna grow old/Bring me all the toys you can find/You don’t wanna grow up/You can be my partner in crime”).

Besides being a brilliant vocalist/songwriter, Sia is also quite talented in creating song titles that really intrigued me before the first listen. Death By Chocolate is one such song and luckily, the charm lasts far past the title. Continuing with the album’s theme of heart break and moving on, the opening lines state, “Death by chocolate is myth/This I know because I lived/I’ve been around for broken hearts and how/Lay your head in my hands little girl/This is only right now”. The midtempo melody seems forlorn, but the lyrics in the chorus (“Tears on your pillow will dry and you will learn/Just how to love again/Oh my weeping willow/Let your leaves fall and return/Oh darling the seasons are your friend…/He’s but a falling leaf,”) are so inspiring that I wish I had’ve had this album back last winter when I was suffering from my own heartbreak. A choir joins in towards the end of the song, and though I tend to find choirs in pop songs to be cheesy, it’s actually well placed in this song.

Sadly, by comparison, perhaps- the latter part of the album fails to truly impress me. Someday We Will Be Found is a pretty, upbeat song that doesn’t quite hold my interest, besides the melodic chorus. The same could be said of Electric Bird, a song that’s charm is only present in Sia’s vocals during the verses. Beautiful Calm Driving is another pretty song, but I certainly wouldn’t listen to it while actually driving- the song is boring enough to put you asleep at the wheel.

The album comes to an end with Lullaby, a hushed ballad. I really enjoy the lyrics in this song (“Place your past into a book/Put in everything you ever took/Place your past into a book/Burn the pages let them cook/And you stood tall/Now you will fall/Don’t break the spell/Of a life spent trying to do well”) but the vocals are so subdued and quiet, that you’d never really pick up on them on your own without having to look them up (as I just did). Sia’s vocals are soothing and calm, perfect for a lullaby, and while I think the song isn’t the strongest end to the album, it’s still nice.

The name Sia Furler may mean nothing to you now, but hopefully it will soon. Some People Have Real Problems is an amazing album, highlighted by Sia’s strong vocals, clever lyrics, and stirring ballads.

Rating: 200px-4.5_stars.svg

Track Listing
1. Little Black Sandals
2. Lentil
3. Day Too Soon
4. You Have Been Loved
5. The Girl You Lost to Cocaine
6. Academia
7. I Go to Sleep
8. Playground
9. Death by Chocolate
10. Soon We’ll Be Found
11. Electric Bird
12. Beautiful Calm Driving
13. Lullaby

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t1x8DMfbYN4]
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