“Take me to church, I’ve done so many bad things it hurts,” sings Sinéad O’Connor on the first single from her most recent album I’m Not Bossy I’m The Boss. As well you have m’lady, I thought, recalling how, in 1990, I had commissioned a biography of Sinéad from an Irish author who told me that after it was published he was accosted in a Dublin bar by the lady herself, evidently displeased at something he had written. A year or two later I called the author to suggest he update the book but he declined. At first I thought this was because he might be concerned about further attacks but no, it turned out that in the meantime the hatchet had been buried but the terms of their now friendly relationship evidently included a clause forbidding further work on the biography.
Sinéad O’Conner has, in the vernacular of the constabulary, been a person of interest for me ever since I first heard (and saw the video for) her breath-taking reading of Prince’s ‘Nothing Compares To You’ and I don’t suppose I’m alone in this. Early in her career I went to see her at the Royal Albert Hall and was mesmerised by this waiflike creature, especially when she produced a beat-box and danced a jig to one of her songs, arms straight down her sides, high stepping Irish style. Her first two albums, The Lion And The Cobra and I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, have been favourites of mine for years, and I’ve tried to keep up with her music while her antics have made headlines, not always for the right reasons.
On this new album her voice has mellowed, perhaps a natural result of growing older, perhaps because she has been advised that to reach a wider audience she needs to adopt a more radio-friendly style. This move contrasts sharply with the cover on which she is photographed wearing a dominatrix-style black latex dress and a raven-haired wig that makes her look a bit like Jessie J. Nowadays to see her with longish hair is as provocative as when she first appeared, shaven-headed, on the cover of The Lion And The Cobra.
The other contrast on I’m Not Bossy I’m The Boss is between the lyrics and the music. While Sinéad sings, as ever, of deep-rooted passions, resentment and desperation, too many of the tracks feature arrangements that are at best easy-on-the-ear and at worst featureless. Many songs, most notably ‘Dense Water Deeper Down’ and ‘Kisses Like Mine’, which follow back to back, sound like Mirage-era Fleetwood Mac (Lindsay Buckingham branch), which if you’re a Mac fan is no bad thing but I don’t expect that from Sinéad. Double-tracking her scorching voice so that it sits in a kind of velvety cushion is fine for some, but to me Sinéad’s lyrics call for a more strident tone or the menacing, angry distance she conjured up for songs like ‘Black Boys On Mopeds’ and ‘The Last Day Of Our Acquaintance’. I liked the catchy opening number ‘How About Me’, and preferred the more understated songs like ‘Harbour’, the vulnerable emotion of ‘The Vishnu Room’ and the closer ‘Streetcars’ to the AOR-ish production that frames most of the songs here. The single ‘Take Me To Church’ is also memorable, rocking up a storm, especially on the chorus, albeit again a bit like the big Mac.
If you prefer your Sinéad with a touch of melodic sugar to sweeten the lyrical pill then I’m Not Bossy I’m The Boss is for you – but I could do with a bit less honey and more Tabasco.