“I think I’ll write about…me!” echoes the ponderous voice of a little girl on Insidiously, the closing track on Sia‘s sophomore album Healing Is Difficult. The guest vocals of the young girl appear frequently throughout the album, spouting innocent albeit seemingly random lines. But then in the final moments of the album this one line gives all of these vocal appearances so much levity and in doing so becomes a fantastic framing device for the album as a whole. Self-empowerment, self-esteem, identity, doubt and the blurred line between lust and love. Such things couldn’t get more personal.
Before her bob cut became a symbol, Sia proved she was bold and fearless on her sophomore album Healing Is Difficult, an engrossing collection of stories that are still relevant 14 years on.
In fact, sometimes when I’m listening to Healing Is Difficult I feel that I’m overhearing a private phone call as the speaker pours her soul out to the unresponsive anonymous soul on the other end of the line. Music, being an art form, tends to concern itself with issues personal to that of the one who composed the piece, but in the case of Healing Is Difficult this seems so much more intense. As I plug in my trusty earphones the sense of personal struggle communicated through Sia Fuller’s strong vocals becomes heightened, “So much in fact, that I don’t know whether to weep or wind my watch”.
Part of the fun of doing these ‘Revisiting’ pieces is that you get to travel back in time and marvel at an musician’s very humble beginning. Just as a time capsule reveals what life was like during an era long past, digging into the old record crate (read; Spotify library) to discover an artists’s back catalogue is a surprising and, if you’re lucky, enlightening experience. Healing Is Difficult takes us back to 2001. The millennium had not rung in a computer apocalypse, emo was yet to be a fashion statement and humanity was faced with an attack that would change our attitudes and beliefs towards our fellow humans for what perhaps may well be forever. Amongst all this chaos that was 2001 emerged Sia’s second album, and in case you haven’t gathered from my last 300 words, it’s bloody brilliant.
It boasts a healthy dose of funk and blues elements whilst appropriating just the right amount of electronica to add an extra spark. Her vocal delivery is so smooth and captivating, I feel as if I’ve been transported to a sinking leather chair in a dimly lit cabaret lounge. Each song nuzzles itself within you, the evocative imagery of Sia doing an amazing job at breaking down any personal barriers and suck you into her world. What really stands out are the dispersed samples of a little girl’s voice that upon the first listen may seem random and disjointed. A woman casually asks “Don’t you think it’s scary being judged?”, to which the child replies “Yeah, you’ll get the hang of it”. These samples are simply astounding. Amongst Sia’s personal struggles and stories she relays throughout the album, these samples run parallel to the main proceedings, but rather than distract they manage to affirm the core themes of album. If you can’t figure what they are then check the album name in the headline, it may give you a clue.
What manages to get me every time I listen to this record is how it always manages to catch you off guard. Healing Is Difficult has an understated nature, especially compared to her more epic, chorused based music today. Opening track Fears boasts that trademark Sia oddball charm. As she lists off various fears, the anxiety of the lyrics is undercut by the bopping, funky bass. It effectively communicates the true meaning of the song; it isn’t about identifying fears, it’s about recognising that fear will always be there, but not letting it overwhelm.
I would love to go into further detail of each of these tracks; the sweeping melancholy of Blow It All Away, the conflicting nature of Drink To Get Drunk, the seductive percussion of I’m Not Important To You, or the drum machine glory of Judge Me, but I’m pushing 700 words and it’s 4am. But let me leave you with these parting words. Whether she’s sampling the pondering of young girls or sampling Shia Labeouf’s beard, Sia Fuller is a truly brave, engrossing artist. It’s criminal to think Healing Is Difficult meagrely peaked at number 99 on the ARIA chart, but then again I doubt Sia really cares for any extra attention nowadays.
For what it’s worth, if you’re looking for something of Sia’s that doesn’t sound like a Rihanna song take a stroll down memory lane and give this baby a few spins. You’ll be sure to be swept up by the funk, the bluesy vocals and curious experimentation. It’s ever so clear that Sia Fuller was always a bold soul, and for the sake of music everywhere I pray that will never change.
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