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Main Category: Singer-Songwriters
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Disclaimer: this page is not written from the point of view of a Sinead O'Connor fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Sinead O'Connor fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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Year Of Release: 1987

Many people will probably refuse to treat this album (as well as any other Sinead albums) as anything more than a 'mood piece', and tend to stay away from it cuz the songs lack well-defined melodies, but I'm not sure I'd wanna join in. Sure enough, the melodies on here aren't that good. But many of the songs are still amazingly well-done, and repeated listens certainly bring out lots of unexpected stuff. And even when the songs are not amazingly well done, they're still enjoyable if you're able to enjoy a great theatrical vocal delivery - except that most of this is obviously much more than pure theatre for Ms O'Connor.

Above all, though, stands the Pope-ripper's awesome voice. Easily one of the strongest female voices in rock; the sheer power that Sinead communicates through these songs beats out Patti Smith, beats out Grace Slick, beats out, well, pretty much everybody. Even beats out Aretha Franklin, I'm not afraid to say, simply because power is Sinead's main goal on here, power to communicate radical, fearless, convincing messages. (Not that I'm knocking any of these singers in any way - I'm just concentrating on one isolated aspect here).

Thus it's no surprise that 'Drink Before The War' just so happens to be one of the strongest anti-war songs I've ever heard. The lyrics aren't its forte, even if the lyrics aren't really all that bad; it's the way the lyrics are delivered, so that each next line makes you jump up, which really makes the grade. Sinead is the absolute master of vocal modulation, going from hushy and soft to all-out screaming, then back to hushy, then to a particularly sharp sneery tone, then soft, then ear-piercing scream again... it's awesome, and it all fits in with the lyrics. Is the song memorable? Yes; not because it is focused on some abstract hook that'd always be good no matter who'd be singing it, but because it leaves such a tremendous burning impression.

However, I think that the album's best material is all packed in the beginning, with the perfect trio of 'Jackie', 'Mandinka', and 'Jerusalem' all qualifying as some of the best "mainstream-potential" songs written in the Eighties. 'Jackie' is a loosely-traditional-based tale of lost love, all built on a paranoid feedback-drenched synth buzz gradually picking up steam as it moves along, and it makes its case in two and a half minutes - pretty bizarre for an album that some might call "alternative adult contemporary", as A.C. usually tends to drag out. 'Mandinka' is the hardest-rocking song on the album, initiating Sinead's attraction towards the third world (Mandinka is a Central African tribe notorious for some of its musical traditions - even if I'm not sure if any "Mandinka" musical elements have actually been used in the song) and, once again, brilliantly building the song up from its simple guitar riff in the verse to the unforgettable 'but I know Mandinka!' chorus.

And frankly speaking, I don't understand what 'Jerusalem' is all about, but I dig it all the same. It almost sounds like a four-minute rock opera to me, with Sinead playing all the parts. The singing is simply outstanding - falsetto here, falsetto there, tenor here, tenor there, and that barrage of 'ooh! ooh! ooh!'s you hear in the middle of the song is unbeatable. There's a lot of unclear, and occasionally grating, mysticism in Sinead's work overall, but this is not the case - the song moves along with so much majesty and beauty you can easily forgive the undecipherability of the message.

One might complain about the album's production which is oh so mainstream and oh so typical of the epoch; but in fact, the production works well, and there's plenty of guitars and the synths are never threatening to overshadow the sound. Given that the main alternative to this was to record a pure "Celtic-sounding" record (and at that time, "Celtic" meant "Clannad-like", i.e. that loosely Celtic-based mushy synth-drenched sound with a 20% chance of enticing you with its beauty and an 80% chance of putting you to sleep in the middle of the day), I more or less welcome the decision. And actually, only a few songs sound "electronic", and the best pf these - the dancey 'I Want Your (Hands On Me)' - is quite attractive anyway, if a bit repetitive.

The weaker material on the album might include more soporific stuff like 'Never Get Old' (although even that song is undismissable if you want to fully appreciate Sinead's vocal capabilities - check out the coda!) and the lengthy epic 'Troy', where, I think really for the only time on the record, the concept of verse/chorus is fully abandoned in favour of a totally theatrical sung monolog. It can be beautiful at times, anyway.

I don't think there's a serious weak spot anywhere on the album, really, if only because its very conception wouldn't allow any weak spots. I mean, people like Chrissie Hynde and Joan Jett had already established the "strong woman in rock" personalities, but here was somebody who was wishing to do the same thing for 'soft', 'inoffensive' adult pop - bring a pinch of harsh, earthy brutality into a genre that was almost by definition 'sweety' and harmless. And upon the first try, pretty much everything works.



Year Of Release: 1990

This one was Sinead's big commercial breakthrough, mainly on the strength of her cover of Prince's 'Nothing Compares 2 U', which is why it is usually hailed as her masterpiece and all. But I'm not so impressed. She does get even sharper and angrier than before in some respects - mainly in the lyrics, with 'Black Boys On Mopeds' totally lambasting Thatcher-era England to pieces - but stylistically, this record is generally much more restrained and smoothed out than its truly excellent predecessor. Basically, when you rate an O'Connor record, you rate it by the force, and the force wasn't with her this time.

The songs are mostly all slow and just kind of seem to lack the edge, you understand. Even 'Nothing Compares 2 U', good as it is, pales in comparison with stuff like 'Troy'. I mean, what is happening here is not that far removed from Sade already; for subtleness, I'll take Sade, for power, I want this shaven-headed monster. But there's not that much power! The thunderous vocal assault doesn't happen that time. Instead, there's moodiness and moodiness and more moodiness. And it's pretty moodiness, I'll give you that. I like the way she sings 'Nothing Compares 2 U'. But I don't see what makes it so outstanding compared to any other "diva delivery". Hey, gimme some radicalism already.

And when she does embark on a mildly rockin' adventure, like with the distorted-guitar-driven 'Jump In The River', there's no power either - there's a subdued hushy vocal delivery. Sure she goes for subtleness, but you don't go for subtleness with distorted guitars. It's simply the wrong approach.

Worse, the songs drag this time. With restrained, monotonous vocal performances numbers like 'Feel So Different' have a very high probability of boring you to death halfway through. Okay, a certain percentage of the population will probably be enthralled instead, but out of all the things to be enthralled with, a seven minute long song consisting of a primitive bassline, a vague orchestrated melody, and a never-really-developing vocal delivery will be one of the last on my list. I'm also very reluctant about being seduced about a six minute long song consisting of a repetitive vocal melody and nothing else (the title track, and I'm not joking - it's six minutes of accappella singing. Not even the Beach Boys with all their intricate harmonies allowed themselves that).

Repetition rules supreme on this album. 'I Am Stretched On Your Grave' with its trip-hop beat also seems to go on forever, and when Sinead's monotonous voice disappears and is replaced by an equally monotonous fiddle jig you almost breathe a sigh of relief. 'Black Boys On Mopeds' may boast vicious lyrics ('England's not the mythical land of Madame George and roses/It's the home of police who kill black boys on mopeds'), but musically it's a rambling, incoherent acoustic ballad - monotonous as hell. Same goes for 'The Last Day Of Our Acquaintance'...

I'm not even sure why I give the album such a high rating. 'Nothing Compares 2 U' would make my "best-of" compilation, I guess, and with a bit of luck, I could squeeze 'Jump In The River' on there, and also 'The Emperor's New Clothes' has a decent beat and some of that energy going on, but that's about it. The difference in quality and style from the debut is stunning - as if all the material was "trimmed" and polished specially for MTV or something. I guess that if we switch over to the positive side, I can say that this is very pleasant (if pretty generic) mood music, and the lyrics are really good sometimes, and there's no reason to doubt Sinead's sincere feelings and all the usual crap. It is kinda weird, though - it was around this time that she started getting all the "bad" reputation in the tabloids (even if the Pope-ripping was still several years away), yet there's really not much of a "bad girl" element in the music. It's perfectly normal, MTV-suited, adult contemporary. Pretty decent as far as adult contemporary goes.

And as far as the critical reputation - again, it's amazing how a hit single can get critics write good things about you even if you don't deserve it. Yeah, well, there are also people who think Oingo Boingo's Dead Man's Party is their best album because they attained commercial success with the singles culled from it. However, don't let me get carried away - maybe my intuition sucks, and this is a big improvement over The Lion And The Cobra. If somebody asked me "in what way?", though, I would be at a total loss.



Year Of Release: 1992
Overall rating =

Sometimes it is not being shocking that actually possesses the greatest shock value.


Track listing: 1) Why Don't You Do Right; 2) Bewitched, Bothered And Bewildered; 3) Secret Love; 4) Black Coffee; 5) Success Has Made A Failure Of Our Home; 6) Don't Cry For Me Argentina; 7) I Want To Be Loved By You; 8) Gloomy Sunday; 9) Love Letters; 10) How Sensitive; 11) Scarlet Ribbons; 12) Don't Cry For Me Argentina (instrumental).

The funniest thing about this record is that, if these pseudo-documental tidbits are to be believed, quite a few fans actually scorned Sinead for "selling out" with this album. Yeah, on first glance, recording an entire LP's worth of covers of big band pop tunes assembled from several decades' worth of commercially oriented music doesn't exactly look like much of an independent artistic statement. But on second glance, "selling out" also means "going predictable" - and in that respect, I Do Not Want... was a far bigger sellout than this, completely unforeseen, move on her part.

Now, Sinead obviously loves this stuff. It's hardly possible to take a genre you hate or simply don't care for - especially if the genre is lounge/Broadway - and sift it through such meticulous work and sincere-sounding singing. But, in all honesty, if there is one tune I would have placed on the far bottom of the "Most Likely Songs To Be Covered By Bald-Headed Female Irish Rebels" list, it would certainly be 'I Wanna Be Loved By You'. Come on now, Sinead O'Connor doing Marilyn Monroe? What next - The London Symphonic Orchestra Plays Music By Dee Dee Ramone?

So it is not a sellout. It's a shock gesture. It's Sinead O'Connor, having firmly established herself as the rebellious female of her generation, confounding expectations and intentionally confusing fans and critics alike by showing that one thing you'll never be able to do will be to pigeonhole her into anything. In an even better sense, this is an all-encompassing, all-forgiving Sinead O'Connor, urging us to find merit in even the most "generic" of all generic genres - show tunes. 'I Wanna Be Loved By You' and its vibe used to be one of the bastions of exploitative sexism; by turning its values onto itself, Sinead siomehow takes out everything that could be deemed offensive about it and transforms it into an enjoyable post-modern joke.

The one real problem is evident - she may like this stuff, and she may think it a cool idea to record it, but she sure as hell wasn't born to sing it. Throughout the record, there's this weird, unsettling feel of inadequacy poisoning the general vibe. She's trying to sound convincing and authentic, and at the same time she's trying to adapt the material to her own capacities, technical as well as spiritual, and being stuck between these two goals, she ultimately fails. When Marilyn sang 'I Wanna Be Loved By You', she was living out the song, oozing out submissiveness and sexuality - Sinead is either unwilling to do it or incapable of doing it, because it's just not her, you know. 'I couldn't aspire to anything higher than to feel the desire to make you my own' - this is not her. After all, she does not want anything she hasn't got, remember? No place for higher desires.

Likewise, on 'Why Don't You Do Right', in which the protagonist is urging her man to 'get out there and get me some money too', Sinead doesn't fit the part too well either. The tune is cool, but it should be delivered with an air of arrogance and "vapour-headedness", which is completely missing. Every time she takes on a tune which demands this exuberance and just basic power to it, the result is sordidly lacklustre, meaning that not only don't these version have one tiny chance to replace the originals, they don't even work all that well as parodies or personal reinterpretations. They just sit there wallowing in their shock value, causing you to raise your eyebrows and then just as quickly drop them back in place.

Things get infinitely better on songs which actually involve a troubled spirit, because that's what Sinead has always been. Not so much a decided banner-bearing rebel as a confused, troubled soul. That's why a song like 'Black Coffee' can really get under your skin where 'Why Don't You Do Right' cannot, even if you have been recently scalped. This is also a good spot to mention the dexterity of the backing band, I guess, because some of the arrangements are quite fabulous - and on 'Black Coffee' in particular the piano, strings, and brass brilliantly match the comings and goings of Sinead's voice as she rises from quiet melancholy to dynamic despair and falls back again.

The album's one definite high point, which, not coincidentally, happens to be the one song most fit for inclusion on Sinead's previous album, is J. Mullins' 'Success Has Made A Failure Of Our Home'. Here, it's rendered as a highly personal, tormented confession, and as the main part of the tune is drawing to a close, Sinead launches into a passionate, bleeding rant - consisting of one and only one line, which has later suitably become the title of the album as a whole. As the strings and trumpets raise hell all over the place, Sinead wails 'am I not your girl? am I not your girl?' like somebody possessed, just for this once completely stepping out of the "image" and reverting to her own true self. The arrangement is so totally fab - hey, maybe if things had been so more symphonic on I Don't Want, I would have held a seriously higher opinion on that album.

As for the other songs, well, it's hit-and-miss all over the place. I happen to find her version of 'Don't Cry For Me Argentina' quite poignant (at the very least, it ain't no worse than the Madonna version), but I just like the tune (yeah, so Andrew Lloyd Webber does have his good moments that are not necessarily Jesus Christ Superstar - now that you've heard it from me, you've earned you right to go back to your KISS records without fear of committing a crime against bad taste, I suppose). On the other hand, six minutes of the jello-mess that is 'Bewitched, Bothered And Bewildered' can only be recommended to either a diehard Sinead fan or a diehard Rogers & Hart fan, whichever one you happen to meet first. And so on.

The tendency is for the album to get gloomier and gloomier as it progresses (which is theoretically good but in the end depends on the song quality, after all); culmination is reached on 'Scarlet Ribbons', which has nothing to do with Broadway but all to do with traditional folk ballads, and is sung practically accappella, ending in a muffled choir of bagpipes. 'Scarlet Ribbons' is arguably Sinead's finest vocal performance on here (technically, at least), not because she was trying better or something, but because this is the kind of material that comes across so naturally to her. On the other hand, it's a bit lethargic after all the Broadway "excitement" - more shock value for youse?

And then, oh woeful day, she finally brings the house down on us. Formally, the album ends with a hustle-bustling, dynamic, danceable instrumental reworking of 'Don't Cry For Me Argentina' - which has now become quite an enjoyable jazzy romp - but as the music finally stops and we're ready to go about our own business and all, starts The Big Moral Rant. 'I'm not a liar, and I'm not full of hatred, but I hate lies, and so the liars hate me... Can you really say you're not in pain, like me?... Pain is what their lies have kept us in.' Within a few weeks of The Big Moral Rant, she would be tearing up the Pope's photo on NBC, effectively ruining her career and causing her to be booed offstage at Dylan's anniversary concert.

True enough - this is the album's greatest shock moment. To be thus directly reminded of the Rebellion, after sitting through forty five minutes of harmless show tunes, is like being dropped head first into ice cold water indeed. Which is why I'm not offended - the greatest offenses usually come from people who do not have a set goal to offend, but do it unintentionally. Nor am I offended by the fact that The Big Moral Rant is even less compatible with 'I Wanna Be Loved By You' than 'I Wanna Be Loved By You' is compatible with The Lion And The Cobra. Rather I am a little bit saddened by the utter silliness of the Rant, as well as the action that followed it.

By the way, in case you didn't know it: while the tearing of the photo and the cartoonish declaration of 'War!' on the Catholic Church has by now become legend, the fact that Sinead later apologized for her action is far less widely known - in fact, she has since gone on record as saying that she actually admired the late John Paul II, and felt sorry for his being manipulated by his croonies, or something to that effect. Which just goes to show that she herself is ready to acknowledge the immaturity and rashness of some of her actions - although I do not know if she has ever felt sorry for taunting us with The Big Moral Rant. That Big Moral Rant in which she is revealed to be just as intolerant and bellicose as the Catholic Church and the 'Holy Roman Empire' that she is blaming for all of the world's evil. On the other hand, even if she is sorry, I probably wouldn't want to have The Big Moral Rant wiped out from the record. Mistakes should be corrected, but not forgotten.

Overall, I give the record a 9/15 from a purely musical standpoint - but if I were to rate it based on shock value, I'd probably have to add at least three or four more points. Of course, I would then have to subtract three or four points for immaturity, which would make it pretty much the same thing. After all, 'shocking' and 'immature' pretty much go hand in hand. Alice Cooper sure could tell you a few things about that one.


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