19 March 2009

Sinead O’Connor: Retrospective on “The Lion & the Cobra”

(Time… Time is of the essence, right? I wanted to get this out for St. Patrick’s Day, to be honest, because I wanted to give credit to my favorite daughter of Ireland. Apologies for the delay and enjoy.)

Sinead O’Connor will forever be known for two things. The first for being one of the sexiest, bald headed women in the world. Like many other post-punk women, there is definitely a sex appeal to the image she projects, but at the same time there is a fierceness and strength that can be intimidating and disarming. The second thing she will forever be known for is ripping the picture of the pope, John Paul II. On 3 October 1992, live on “Saturday Night Live,” after singing an a cappella cover of Bob Marley’s “War” (switching the lyrics from “racism” to “child abuse”), the pope’s image was ripped in half. She said, “Fight the real enemy,” as the crowd sat in shook, horror, and silence. What was never discussed was her reason for doing this. In a nutshell, it was her protest against the Catholic Church denying and / or perpetrating acts of physical and sexual abuse of children. It is funny how Sinead has never been forgiven for this act, when within ten years all of the headlines in the press would decry the abuses of priests within the church. Her anger and outrage was years ahead of everyone else's.

But what should never be forgotten is that Sinead O’Connor had and continues to produce some of the most mind-boggling, urgent, infectious, and politically conscious music, accompanied by perhaps the most unique voice of all time. As an artist she is uncompromising, and as a person she suffers with her own demons like the rest of us. And before there was all of his brouhaha about ripping a picture, she was just that bald headed girl from Ireland, who released an amazing debut album, “The Lion & the Cobra” (1987).

The album opens with “Jackie,” a harrowing tale of a woman waiting for her man who embarked on a voyage at sea. “I remember the day the young man came, he said, “Your Jackie’s gone, he got lost in the rain.” And I ran to the beach and laid me down, “You’re all wrong.” I said… I’ve been washing the sand with my salty tears, searching the shore these long years… till I find my Jackie…” Devoid of percussions, the song gains power from the textures of her voice. From sweet and loving, to angry and sinister, to anxious and resigned, Sinead in under two-and-a-half minutes is able to demonstrate more range and power in her voice than most singers in their career, period.

Her most successful single from the album, “Mandinka,” follows, which was under heavy rotation on “120 Minutes,” reached top 20 status in the UK, and was performed at the Grammy’s. But the show-stopper of the album is “Troy.” An epic that would make any post-punk, Goth artist jealous, she raps the story of the fall of Ancient Troy around the abuses she endured by her mother. “Do you want me? Should I leave? I know you’re always telling me that you love me, just sometimes I wonder if I should believe…” And just as the walls of Troy crumbled, the experience of abuse crumbled her psyche. And just as the Greeks were not just happy with breaking the walls, but had to continue with slaughter, Sinead sings, “and the flames burned away, but you’re still spitting fire.”

But this is more than just doom and gloom; just as Sinead demonstrates the range of her voice, she demonstrates the range of her craftsmanship. From the harrowing and epic, so the straight out pop, “I Want Your (Hands on Me)” is an itchy, dancy number. “Jerusalem” is a heady pop song with a wha-wha effected guitar in the background: “It’s show time, I hope you do what you said when you swore you’d make it better, deliver all the letters on time, Jerusalem.” And of course, a little bit of gender bending in the final track: “Don’t call me sir, oh just call me Joe. Don’t call me lady, just call me Joe. Don’t call me mister, just call me Joe. Don’t call me sweetheart, just call me Joe” (“Just Call Me Joe”). Because at the end of it all, Sinead understands that we are all “Joe,” a generic face, quite often forgotten and ignored in the crowd. But unlike most, Sinead is willing to make waves and scream until we listen. She proves from the onset, before that ripping the picture incident, that this bald headed daughter of Ireland has the talent to deliver solid music, the conviction to not be frivolous, and the audacity to shock us, not because her actions are not things that we have not thought about. But rather because she has the courage to deliver them to action when we do not. It is all of that, from the benign to speaking the taboo of abuse, which makes “The Lion & the Cobra” an amazing album.

As for the two different covers for this album, it is a bit of interesting trivia. The first (above), from the European release, is a defiant, menacing Sinead, screaming. The second (below), the American release, of a more peaceful, calm Sinead – the idea being that the first would be to bombastic for Americans to handle.

Track Listing:
1. Jackie
2. Mandika
3. Jerusalem
4. Just Like U Said It Would B
5. Never Get Old
6. Troy
7. I Want Your (Hands on Me)
8. Drink Before the War
9. Just Call Me Joe

Keep up with Sinead O’Connor at her homepage and MySpace.