I’m going to go all “hipster” on you for a moment and say that I was listening to Australian singer-songwriter, Sia, before she went mainstream. It’s true, though- I bought two of Sia’s earlier albums back in 2008, when she was just a small blip on the music world’s radar. I thought her talent was impressive and hoped that the rest of the world would pick up on her beautiful music. And eventually, they did.
I don’t think Sia Furler is a household name now, but she’s definitely seen a lot more recognition in the past few years, thanks to hit collaborations with stars like David Guetta and Flo Rida (and while I’m not a fan of the latter collab, “Wild Ones”, I WILL admit to getting “Titanium” stuck in my head every time I listen to it). It’s interesting to see Sia’s success and the music she’s been releasing now, which is so far away from her mellow, indie-pop roots.
Recently, I’ve been revisiting her third studio album, Colour The Small One (released in 2004). The disc is a nice introduction to Sia’s solo work- there are plenty of emotional ballads that highlight her powerful voice, and plenty of fun, upbeat songs, all with Sia’s signature well-written lyrics.
The album begins with Rewrite, a relaxed, mid-tempo number, which instantly introduces us to Sia’s silky vocals. She’s got quite a lovely tone- her husky voice glides effortlessly over the music. Musically, most of the instrumentation is composed of light drumming, keyboards and a few digitized sounds. Though the track is a strong opener, it’s a bit unremarkable once matched with the more memorable songs on the album. One such song appears next with Sunday. Though the lyrics are nice, I absolutely love the accordion, flute, and clarinet that play throughout the song. The combination of the three might sound a bit odd on paper, but they actually create quite a pleasing sound.
Breathe Me is one of the saddest and most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard. The production is stripped back to piano for most of the track, before the song picks up in the second verse and drums are added in. Again, the focus here is not on the backing music; the importance of this song lies in the heartbreaking, emotional lyrics (“Yeah I think that I might break/I’ve lost myself again and I feel unsafe/Be my friend/Hold me, wrap me up/Unfold me/I am small and needy/Warm me up/And breathe me”), and Sia’s stirring delivery. Sia’s vocals are always impressive, but she sounds both powerful and vulnerable as she belts her way through this ballad. Eerily enough, Sia had a nervous breakdown a few days after recording this song and had to stay in a mental hospital for a few months, so the raw emotion heard in this song actually seems very real put in that context.
Another of my favourite tracks is Sweet Potato. Though I do particularly enjoy listening to the keyboards in this track, therealjoy of the song is the story Sia weaves through the lyrics- a tale of an unconventional, sweet romance (“She cooks you sweet potato you don’t like aubergine/She knows to boil the kettle when you hum bars from Grease/She senses you are lonely but still she can’t be sure/And so she stands and waits, stands anticipating/How can she become the psychic that she longs to be to understand you”). At this point in the album, Sia has already proven herself as a good songwriter, but this song is easily one of the most well-written songs on the disc. Alt-rocker, Beck, is listed as a co-writer on The Bully, but his influence isn’t incredibly obvious; the song and lyrics sound like the other tracks that Sia penned on her own. Still, that doesn’t make the track a bad one- the subdued, acoustic sound works well, and the chorus is catchy.
The album does hit a bit of a lull at this point. Though none of the next few tracks are hard to listen to, or “bad” in any way on their own, they become a bit monotonous when played back to back on the album. Don’t Bring Me Down actually has the adverse effect of its title- the melancholy sound drags on and comes off being quite depressing. Though Natalie’s Song boasts another memorable chorus (I love the simple repetition of “momentarily, she brings peace to me”), the rest of the song does little else to impress me. Butterflies and Moon are both songs that I tend to forget are even on the album- both songs feature incredibly dull music and lyrics, and seem more like B-sides, rather than sturdy contenders for the album. Numb is an admittedly pretty ballad, but is easily forgotten amongst all the other ballads on the album.
The Church of What’s Happening Now is the only song on the latter half of the album that I truly enjoy. Yes, it’s another ballad, and okay, the music is pretty lackluster and drones on a bit, but the best part of this song is really the lyrics. The chorus is particularly inspirational (“Throw away yesterday/Today is a brand new day ”), and I love listening to this song when I’m feeling down or have had a bad day. The album ends with Where I Belong, a much needed upbeat song. The jazz horns played throughout are a nice change of pace, but the best part is once again, the sassy chorus (“So don’t treat me bad just be glad I am strong /I know where I belong/And soon you will see we are blessed and complete/There’s a place here for you with me ”). The track ends the album on an upbeat note, which is nice after all the downtrodden ballads in the middle of the disc.
I do think that Sia’s follow-up album, Some People Have Real Problems, is a better effort, but Colour the Small One is still a great CD. The strongest tracks (particularly “Breathe Me”, “Sweet Potato” and “The Church of What’s Happening Now”) more than make up for the few dull moments on the album, and all of the songs perfectly illustrate Sia’s talent and prove that she’s more than just a voice on a R&B/hip-hop track.
3. Breathe Me
4. The Bully
5. Sweet Potato
6. Don’t Bring Me Down
7. Natale’s Song
10. The Church of What’s Happening Now
12. Where I Belong