Sinéad O'Connor - How About I Be Me (And You Be You)?
Few other performers have had such a tumultuous relationship with fame. Sinéad O'Connor has both bathed in its limelight only to then shun its heated embrace. Her painful, brutal uncompromising honesty has been both her making and her undoing. Those of us who have followed O'Connor from banshee wailing indie goddess to pop princess to social outcast have always waited with bated breath for her next release. Would it be more heartbreakingly gorgeous gems like 'Three Babies' from her commercial breakthrough I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got (1990) or 'Troy' (the song I wish I could have written) from her breathtaking 1988 debut The Lion and the Cobra, or confused ramblings spouting religious and political propaganda as with her 1994 album Universal Mother? Never predictable, always interesting, sometimes rewarding, occasionally disappointing, O'Connor is without a doubt one of the most significant and fascinating female vocalist of the last 30 years. And this, her latest release, goes a long way of fulfilling her enigma.
How About I Be Me (And You Be You)? is as contradictory as ever. The woman who sang 'No Man's Woman' (from 2000's Faith and Courage) begins with a song about getting married. The charming '4th And Vine' rolls in with a four-time betrothed (and divorced) O'Connor in the unlikely role as blushing bride, extolling the virtues of wedding bliss. O'Connor's voice is as sure as ever: "I'm gonna put my pink dress on / And do my hair up tight / I'm gonna put some eyeliner on / I'm gonna look real nice." True to fashion this then segues into a song about a heroin addict. 'Reason With Me is one of the best tracks on the album; slow, sad, melancholy - classic O'Connor. The protagonist seems to be speaking to people she has recently robbed in order to feed her habit, all the while lamenting her miserable plight: 'Oh so long I've been a junkie / I ought to wrap it up and mind my monkeys / I really want to mend my ways / I'm really gonna call that number one of these days."
With some of the tracks, as in lacklustre 'Old Lady', or the tiresome religious hyperbole of 'Take Off Your Shoes', her still magnificent voice salvages what are otherwise mediocre numbers. New single 'The Wolf Is Getting Married' with its mid-tempo, radio-friendly soft rock melody, and the very lovely 'Very Far from Home' still emit some of the old spark.
Yet it wouldn't be a Sinéad O'Connor album without a little morality lesson at the end, and 'V.I.P.' has got to be one of the oddest. The song starts with a soundbite of a Rastafarian preacher before O'Connor's beautiful voice floats in. The song is reminiscent of her magnificent, show-stopping 'I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got', sung a cappella and one of the great highlights of her career. O'Connor's voice is an orchestra in itself, so it is always a treat when the music is stripped away and she is left alone in the spotlight. The lyrics are wonderfully naive and the soft melody, barely audible in the background, shadows her haunting performance: "Do we have the balls to go to that party? / Or do we rather stay and dance with vanity? / Tell me now, what's a real V.I.P.?" Unfortunately, the song and the mood is marred by O'Connor's fervent voice whispering religious dogma at its close. No other way to say it, but the spell is broken.
There are few artists as brave or as brazen, who wear their hearts on their sleeves and then sing about it - even at the risk of alienating everyone around them. Such conviction can be wearisome, even off-putting. Yet the naked courage of this woman is still remarkable. Sinéad O'Connor does what she does with no apologies. She may not want what she hasn't got, but she deserves more.