Australian chanteuse Sia returns with her third album, in which she claims in the title that `some people have real problems.’ Well, her `problems’ of lingering in the background are all but over with this album release. By releasing her next record with Hear Music, a.k.a. Starbucks, her target demographic market hears her music with every morning’s order of a triple grande half-caff no-whip mocha with a hint of cinnamon. I predicted with the release of Colour the Small One, Sia’s sophomore release, that she would hit it big with fans of zeitgeist-style artists such as Norah Jones, Joss Stone and Dido. This is certainly the right step for her career, but does this album hold up to the promise of the dramatic tunes that came earlier?
The truth is, Sia will probably never be able to get out from under the shadow created by her own song, “Breathe Me,” and she has Alan Ball to thank for it. His use of this song in the final minutes of the final episode of HBO’s emotionally captivating Six Feet Under forever made the song into a culturally iconic track that would forever haunt any artist through their career. That being said, Some People Have Real Problems is one of those career-making albums, and not just because it’s going to be sold at Starbucks. The first single, “Day Too Soon” is indicative of the strength of the majority of the album. Sia’s voice runs a range from the coy and flirtatiously feminine to the growly and fierce yet soulful, sometimes within the same song. Gorgeous gospel backing vocals and a melodic piano turn “Day Too Soon” from just an ordinary pop song into a sweeping and dramatic mover and shaker.
“The Girl you Lost to Cocaine” is an odd one, but a standout nonetheless. It’s a different style of song for Sia, that’s for sure, finding her almost talk-singing, and quickly at that. It’s probably not her strongest or most moving song, but it definitely shows her range. Her second collaboration with Beck arrives with “Academia,” a song for lovers of quirky and smart-ass songs everywhere. In other words, if you dig They Might Be Giants, you’ll love this song. If you didn’t get a chance to pick up her live EP, Lady Croissant (which I’m sad to say did NOT have the desired tagline, `gitchy gitchy ya ya, eat me’), you get a second crack at her cover of the Kinks’ “I Go To Sleep,” a rendition not to be missed. Her version is more like the Pretenders’ cover than the original, and as such has a decidedly heavier and more emotional feel. “Soon We’ll Be Found” is another like “Day Too Soon,” catchy and replete with gorgeous instrumentation that suits her powerful voice. “Electric Bird” has some instrumental passages that sound like they were lifted from “Paranoid Android,” which shouldn’t be too strange since she once covered for the song for a tribute album. But be sure to keep the disc playing for the hidden track “Buttons,” a cross between an early Prince jam and a dance track by Annie. It sounds strange, but it’s a lot of fun.
Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty, shall we? In all honesty, Sia will never carry the same weight in the indie market as artists like Jenny Lewis, Neko Case or Feist (even though she’s on a major). The indie kids will generally shun her as they did with Norah Jones, Dido and Joss Stone. But that doesn’t mean that Sia doesn’t have the goods. Before Some People Have Real Problems, Sia was an artist caught between musical worlds, for a while a faceless voice in the Zero 7, a band with definite indie cred, but then as a faceless solo artist trying to get exposure, with the only real promotion coming from finding her songs on television shows. Now, she’s found her market, or it’s found her, and she’ll be like a round peg in a venti cup. If there is one problem with Some People, it’s that there’s nothing as mind-blowingly good as “Breathe Me.” And, in truth, that’s what most people will be hoping for. But, plenty of artists have overcome hurdles such as being tagged a `one hit wonder’ in the past, only to become stronger artists. Just ask Radiohead.
Dido- Life for Rent
Nelly Furtado- Whoa, Nelly!
Joss Stone- The Soul Sessions