Music

Sinéad O’Connor: How About I Be Me (And You Be You)?

Scathing protests, familial longings, and one very improbable character study -- all unmistakably Sinéad.

Sinéad O'Connor

How About I Be Me (And You Be You)?

Label: One Little Indian
US Release Date: 2012-02-21
UK Release Date: 2012-03-05
Label Website
Artist Website
Amazon
iTunes

Good Lord, there are moments here as bloodcurdling as anything she’s ever done. Sinéad O’Connor, that is; and “here” is her ninth studio album, How About I Be Me (And You Be You)?, on which the most bloodcurdling moment is the song “Take Off Your Shoes”. “Shoes” has been kicking around the internet for a while, but it sounds especially ferocious coming after the optimistic “Old Lady” (more on that in a bit). “I bleed the blood of Jesus over you”, O’Connor begins, invoking some terrifying divine presence bleeding vengeance, not forgiveness, over the heathens. “The Holy Spirit sings to the Vatican”, she describes it; I hear the magisterial title characters from Angels in America. For bloody judgment, “Shoes” also recalls Tori Amos’s rendition of Slayer’s “Raining Blood”, which Amos envisioned as “a huge juicy vagina coming out of the sky, raining blood over all those racist, misogynist fuckers” -- i.e., oppressors of women in Afghanistan.

But O’Connor doesn’t settle for Amos’s quiet creepiness -- she embodies the avenging Spirit, building and building in intensity, multitracking the different timbres of her voice into a caterwaul that combines the best elements of an air raid siren and a slap in the face. To read her climactic words -- “I see you’re runnin’ out of battery! / And I don’t see no bunnies / Around here” -- is to wonder how she’s survived as a lyricist. But who are we to argue when the Holy Spirit (or whoever) sees theological implications in the Energizer Bunny? As in The Sopranos, when Tony would fret over some mundane aspect of family life before committing brutal murders, O’Connor’s stream of corniness renders her divine force more believable and more shocking.

Also shocking, given her recent marital yo-yos in real life, is this line from the bouncy album opener “4th and Vine”: “I’m gonna marry my love / And we’ll be happy for all time.” Later in the song she waxes about having six children who will also be happy for all time, just because everybody in the O’Connor household loves one another so much, tra la la. (She also transforms “buggy ride” into a useful sex euphemism.) Two other songs celebrate love in terms most eight-year-olds would understand. On the first single “The Wolf Is Getting Married”, the lucky Wolf will “never cry again”. And in the aforementioned “Old Lady”, O’Connor dreams, “One day he’ll say, ‘That’s my girl’ / The happiest words in the world / Make me laugh like an idiot / Not be so serious”. This from a woman who wrote and sang “The Last Day of Our Acquaintance”, a clear-eyed account of divorce, 22 years ago! She must know that marriages, even successful ones, don’t bring about happiness “for all time”, so what’s going on here?

What’s happening is that O’Connor the lyricist is getting better and better at apparent artlessness. Much like John Lennon on Double Fantasy or Lou Reed on New Sensations, O’Connor writes songs that seem like simple conduits for her personality. Her lyrics don’t put on airs and they invite derision. She writes lines that nobody aiming for the Great Irish Songbook would ever allow themselves. So, you know, her Holy Spirit really digs Energizer commercials. Or, when O’Connor impersonates a lovestruck teenager in “Old Lady”, she writes with diaristic awkwardness, “I even act like I don’t like him... [Because] everyone would know I love him / And that’s so uncool / ‘Cause it’s messing with all the rules”. In the moving, not-quite-acapella closer “V.I.P.”, O’Connor becomes a rhymin’ preacher, decrying Kanye-style bling and organized religion like they’re the same thing: “To whom exactly are we giving hope / When we stand behind the velvet rope / Or get our pictures taken with the Pope / Like some sick April fool kind of joke”. Her cover of John Grant’s hilarious, rambling “Queen of Denmark” fits in perfectly. She’s pared her songwriting back to its essence -- simple lines that sort of rhyme -- to better express her messy, inexpressible personality.

When this approach works, as it does gloriously in “Old Lady” and “4th and Vine”, the songs’ simplicity opens up a world of complexity. (When it doesn’t work, as on the icky “I Had a Baby”, O’Connor’s lyrical diary crosses the line into navel-gazing.) Of course O’Connor knows getting married won’t make her “happy for all time”. But the more desperately she clings to the promise of eternal bliss, the more poignant her songs become. Listening to the whole album, with its mix of angry songs butted right up next to familial longings, it’s easy to see your own complex anger in the juxtaposition, particularly since the Catholic Church’s PR department lately prizes tone-deaf arrogance over all else. (Seriously, I wanna love the Church, but “Shoes” and “V.I.P.” make me mad at the whole enterprise. Has any other recent protest music been so potent?) O’Connor, like all of us, contains multitudes.

Fortunately for Sinéad the songwriter, she’s working with Sinéad the vocalist, who possesses a divine gift: on any given note, she can choose from four or five different voices, all unmistakably Sinéad. Multitudes of multitudes! She moves from whispers to bleats and back again, sometimes within the same syllable. O’Connor and her longtime drummer/producer John Reynolds create choirs of sweet, angelic Sinéads to ping pong behind braying Sinéads, while more plainspoken Sinéads deliver “V.I.P.” in austere harmony. The versatile band of studio professionals -- guitar, bass, drums, and organ -- supply momentum and atmosphere, and then get out of the way of O’Connor’s forthright melodies. There’s hardly anything in the way of riffs or solos, nothing to distract from the tumbling cascades of Sinéads.

Besides “I Had a Baby”, a couple other songs don’t work. On a 10-song album, that’s a problem, though not as big a problem as you might expect -- it’s paced well. Most glaring is the junkie profile “Reason With Me”, an improbable character study where the character inhabits Sinéad’s writing style, rather than the other way around. “Oh so long I been a junkie / I ought to wrap it up and mind my monkeys”, indeed. Much like Ani DiFranco’s unsuccessful new character study “Life Boat”, “Reason With Me” shows that its author is at her best when she’s herself, unfettered and larger than life. Sinéad O’Connor remains character enough.

7
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

12 Essential Performances from New Orleans' Piano "Professors"

New Orleans music is renowned for its piano players. Here's a dozen jams from great Crescent City keyboardists, past and present, and a little something extra.

Music

Jess Williamson Reimagines the Occult As Source Power on 'Sorceress'

Folk singer-songwriter, Jess Williamson wants listeners to know magic is not found in tarot cards or mass-produced smudge sticks. Rather, transformative power is deeply personal, thereby locating Sorceress as an indelible conveyor of strength and wisdom.

By the Book

Flight and Return: Kendra Atleework's Memoir, 'Miracle Country'

Although inconsistent as a memoir, Miracle Country is a breathtaking environmental history. Atleework is a shrewd observer and her writing is a gratifying contribution to the desert-literature genre.

Music

Mark Olson and Ingunn Ringvold Celebrate New Album With Performance Video (premiere)

Mark Olson (The Jayhawks) and Ingunn Ringvold share a 20-minute performance video that highlights their new album, Magdalen Accepts the Invitation. "This was an opportunity to perform the new songs and pretend in a way that we were still going on tour because we had been so looking forward to that."

Music

David Grubbs and Taku Unami Collaborate on the Downright Riveting 'Comet Meta'

Comet Meta is a brilliant record full of compositions and moments worthy of their own accord, but what's really enticing is that it's not only by David Grubbs but of him. It's perhaps the most emotive, dream-like, and accomplished piece of Grubbsian experimental post-rock.

Music

On Their 2003 Self-Titled Album, Buzzcocks Donned a Harder Sound and Wore it With Style and Taste

Buzzcocks, the band's fourth album since their return to touring in 1989, changed their sound but retained what made them great in the first place

Reading Pandemics

Chaucer's Plague Tales

In 18 months, the "Great Pestilence" of 1348-49 killed half of England's population, and by 1351 half the population of the world. Chaucer's plague tales reveal the conservative edges of an astonishingly innovative medieval poet.

Music

Country's Jaime Wyatt Gets in Touch With Herself on 'Neon Cross'

Neon Cross is country artist Jaime Wyatt's way of getting in touch with all the emotions she's been going through. But more specifically, it's about accepting both the past and the present and moving on with pride.

Music

Counterbalance 17: Public Enemy - 'It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back'

Hip-hop makes its debut on the Big List with Public Enemy’s meaty, beaty manifesto, and all the jealous punks can’t stop the dunk. Counterbalance’s Klinger and Mendelsohn give it a listen.

Music

Sondre Lerche and the Art of Radical Sincerity

"It feels strange to say it", says Norwegian pop artist Sondre Lerche about his ninth studio album, "but this is the perfect time for Patience. I wanted this to be something meaningful in the middle of all that's going on."

Books

How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.

Film

From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.