Sia was thiiiiiis close. If Six Feet Under were a broadcast network show and not relegated to HBO, she might have made it, too.
Sia Furler’s first solo American release Colour the Small One came almost a full two years after the same album’s release in the UK and her native Australia, thanks to the song “Breathe Me” getting a prime spot at the end of Six Feet Under‘s series finale. She managed some degree of critical acclaim, built a devoted audience, and embarked on an extensive tour of the States. And yet, she just couldn’t quite squeak her way into the American mainstream. Her latest release, the mini-live-album Lady Croissant is something of an epilogue to that ultimately unfortunate stab at American solo success, an idea currently evidenced by the lack of a European release on any format other than digital download (thus far).
As far as the actual contents of Lady Croissant, it’s assembled quite well, containing something for anyone who’s been interested in any aspect of Sia’s career thus far; there’s one new studio track, one new live track, three from Colour the Small One, one from her solo debut Healing is Difficult, one cover tune, and the two Zero 7 singles that drew her to the attention of the critical community in the first place. That’s a lot of ground to cover for a disc that barely hits 40 minutes.
Still, amongst all of the variety of the track list, the Sia live experience (at least, the one evidenced by Lady Croissant) leaves something to be desired. Sure, great songs are still great songs, but much of the instrumentation comes off as a bit robotic. And then there are Sia’s vocals … if you’ve ever heard Tori Amos sing live, you know that part of her appeal in that setting is the way she uses her voice, bending and twisting words until they take on meanings different than the ones they may carry in the dictionary. Some find it infuriating; her fans can’t get enough. The same may go for Sia, for all I know, but if that’s the case, this reviewer is siding with infuriating. Furler bends her vowels to the point that her words become nigh-unintelligible, perhaps as a method of trying to make up for the fact that every single song in the live set is a lush, slow-to-mid-tempo affair. Trying to figure out the words at least gives us a reason to keep concentrating, yes?
This particular idiosyncrasy goes so far as to all but ruin what could potentially be some of the stronger tracks on the album, as Colour the Small One‘s “Don’t Bring Me Down” and Healing is Difficult‘s uncharacteristically somber “Blow it All Away” are both vocally affected to the point of being unlistenable. Not even the new live track “Lentil” is immune, which is a shame, because with no studio counterpart to compare it to, it’s even tougher to decipher what’s being said.
Sia’s vocal manipulation is admittedly mitigated somewhat by the simple fact that her vocal tone is utterly lovely, and the power of her voice is occasionally transcendent. This particularly benefits the Zero 7 hit “Destiny”, transformed here into the showcase for a diva-level vocalist heavy on the power vocals, a song whose climax is enough to give shivers even to those most frustrated by the other songs in the performance. “Breathe Me” is predictably brilliant as well, as Sia pulls even more power out of the words in the title by extending them beyond their expected length and letting them hang in silence just long enough to save them from falling off a cliff when she comes back. It’s not a new trick, but it’s used just right in this particular case, making it almost enough to convince the listener that this live set has more merit than it actually does.
And then there’s the studio track, a little thing called “Pictures”, surprisingly breezy and lightweight for a Sia production, even as its message is still a bit depressing. Maybe it says that she’s getting past the weighty emotional trauma that led to Colour the Small One, and maybe it was a toss-off from those sessions, but it’s a fun little tune nonetheless. Still, it’s not enough. I can’t shake the feeling that Lady Croissant is technically kind of wonderful, but her oddly calculated vocal tics just leave me cold, and all the talent in the world can’t save you when your band is more or less going through the motions. It may well be worth checking out for those already under Sia’s potent spell; unfortunately, it feels a little too much like a last gasp for air in a market that has unfairly shut her out of the spotlight.