Aside from her only U.K. Top Ten hit, Australian chanteuse Sia's first major-label release, Healing Is Difficult, is perhaps the most under-appreciated and ignored of her critically acclaimed career, coming years before her Six Feet Under-assisted U.S. breakthrough, and just a little too early to capitalize on the word of mouth success of the Zero 7 debut she provided vocals for. It's a shame that more of her ever-growing fan base haven't been inspired to check the disc out; the New Jack Swing beats and tinny strings of the All Saints-esque "Get Me" and the meandering drum‘n'bass-tinged "Judge Me" haven't aged particularly well, so this is perhaps her most personal and emotional record to date. The clever sample of Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet" on the chiming trip-hop of "Taken for Granted" and the ambient fusion of haunting cellos, fluttering flutes, and slap basslines on the lilting dub-reggae of "Fear" offer early glimpses of the eclectic streak that has since pervaded her atmospheric brand of coffee house soul. Written while grieving the death of her boyfriend, Healing Is Difficult's 11 tracks understandably often allude to her personal tragedy ("My first love is already dead") but despite the difficult subject matter, the follow-up to the Aussie-only release Only See (of which one track, "Sober and Unkissed" appears here in remixed form, as does her former acid-jazz outfit Crisp's "I'm Not Important to You") is far from a depressing listen, as Sia's breathless, sensual vocals provide a wonderfully breezy accompaniment to Blair Mackichan's subtle, jazz-fused production, particularly on the saxophone-led "Drink to Get Drunk," the acoustic nu-soul of "Insidiously," and the seductive, string-soaked "Blow It All Away," the closest the album gets to Zero 7's blissful chill-out. Laying the foundations for her more celebrated future material, Healing Is Difficult is an achingly honest record which successfully pursues the retro jazz-soul sound half a decade before it became in vogue.
AllMusic Review by Jon O'Brien