There’s a quote, from an article that Germaine Greer wrote back in the 70s,which springs back in to my mind continuously when listening to certain albums:
“When Joshua fit the Battle of Jericho the walls came tumbling down. That’s revelation. The holy Ghost talking. So it can be done. The way to crack a mirror or shiver a wineglass is to find the right frequency and pound it.”
Which is to say, something which anyone who’s been blessed enough to hear Sinead O’Connor singing at full flight knows full well, great music is about striking the right chord.
Over her twenty-five year career, partly because of her own impetuosness but mainly because of the way the media works, more has been written about what this extraordinary artist has said or done than sung, which is mind-blowingly sad because it’s hard to think of a more impassioned, beautiful, and unique voice than O’Connor’s. Listen to her new album, How About I Be Me (And You Be You), and you’ll quickly be reminded of just how gifted an artist O’Connor is.
So let’s skip past the tabloid details of her recent past, and the cod psychology that links it directly to her songs – because by falling into that pitfall, as Stephen M. Deusner does in his recent pitchfork review, O’Connor’s latest album How About I Be Me (And You Be You)? comes across as ravaged, sad and with songs that ‘ don’t sound like they were written; they sound like they were scrawled in a shaky but determined hand’.
Sure there’s introspection and a wide gamut of emotions on display, but let he who has ears hear the unmistakable tone of this album: joy. The Wolf is getting Married is soaringly beautiful, optimistic and brings me right back to the early 90s when I first heard that unmistakable voice. Sure, it has a really clunky couplet in it – ‘even when something terr-i- ble is happening, you laugh and that’s the thing I love about you most’, but she pulls it off with sincerity, and more than makes up for it with the striking chorus
But the sun’s peeking out of the sky, where it used to be only grey
the wolf is getting married, and he’ll never cry again
On 4th and Vine there’s more marriage, children, romance and an infectious middle eastern rhythm section. O’Connor skips along to the beat, promising ”we’re going to have six children“, but the overall tone of the song is anything but domestic – this is a bluesy raunch crashing into the Wedding Feast of Cana as she assures the girls it’s ‘so warm inside, when he takes me on a buggy ride‘. It’s a stand-out track on an album that has precious little padding – perfectly produced by John Reynolds, O’Connor’s long time collaborator (and ex-husband).
Marriage, sex, union, children, combined arguments that rarely enough make it into songs – and which certainly, according to the common wisdom, shouldn’t be presented by a 45 year old woman with a past, which is precisely why this is a beautiful and important album. It’s a good exercise to separate the singer from the song, the biography from the art, but at the same time it would be willful to ignore the intensely personal nature of much of O’Connor’s work; I had a baby is one such example, which deals with the birth of her first son, out of wedlock – what an anachronistic term, but that’s precisely what the song deals with: the bonds between a child and mother, and the rules and norms of society. It’s proud, loving, sad and complex – and how many artists, men or women, have the courage these days to be complex?
It wouldn’t be O’Connor though without moments of rage, and what a moment she presents in Take off your shoes. A lambasting bollocking of a song, directed firmly and squarely at the Catholic hierarchy who richly deserve it (and if you’ve doubts on this point, you need to do some reading up first – try the ryan report for starters).There are times when a singer takes on a public role, singing for those who have no voice ; it’s a tightrope act, and one which O’Connor hasn’t always pulled off succesfully in the past, but this time the combination of her voice, poetry, music and righteous anger combine to make something spine-chilling – if ever there was a sound to bring walls tumbling down, this is it
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