Once you’ve heard a song in a powerful context, it’s impossible to separate it from that context. Until the middle of last year, Sia Furler (who records simply under her first name) was most famous for her guest vocals on Zero 7’s strong debut, Simple Things. Her second solo record, Colour the Small One, was released in her native Australia nearly two years ago, but it didn’t see a domestic release until now. But it finally made it stateside because of “Breathe Me,” the melancholy call for help that was featured on the moving montage that ended the run of HBO’s Six Feet Under last year.
That song, now forever linked to the show by its small but loyal following, is the best song on her record, and really the only case for an admittedly lightweight release to ever see U.S. distribution. That’s not to say that there aren’t other strong songs on Colour the Small One. The opening four tracks, including “Breathe Me,” are all strong, with opener “Rewrite” making the best case, using Herbert-like production (not to mention a Dani Siciliano-like whisper croon) to mimic the tone of Sia’s early evening work with Zero 7.
But Sia’s voice can be affected, and when the songwriting sags and the production becomes more generic toward the middle of the album, she struggles to keep the listener’s attention. It perks up a little near the end, especially with “The Church of What’s Happening Now,” which uses the strength of her voice, something she oddly seems to avoid on most of the record. But both bonus tracks on the American version are superfluous, and the remixes of “Breathe Me” by Four Tet and Ulrich Schnauss are disappointing.
Sia is a great singer and a decent songwriter, but often her sentimentality spoils both. With a more emotionally honest approach, like some of her fantastic live performances have shown, her voice can be powerful and raw, and her best lyrics and arrangements are open in the same way. Though “Breathe Me” is not a timeless classic, its success is deserving apart from its association, and it should not be forgotten. The rest of the record, however, may have no choice.
“Breathe Me” video