And then I think about 1992’s set of torch ballads and jazz standards, Am I Not Your Girl? I really love this album. It was the one that cemented the brilliance of Sinead O’Connor’s voice for me. It was what completely and utterly sold her.
Those first three albums show such range and she was still young. Very young. Since then there have been highlights, most of Universal Mother, the very lovely Gospel Oak EP and the set of traditional Irish tunes, Sean-Nos Nua. She lost me with the reggae covers album but before that I was still listening, I found plenty to like on 2000’s Faith And Courage.
Her own songs Mandinka, Troy, Black Boys On Mopeds, I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, The Last Day Of Our Aquantaince and Feel So Different – just for starters. Wow. Every one of those songs floors me every time – and we’re just talking about a handful of songs on her first two albums. She was just 20 when The Lion And The Cobra was made.
And then of course the big breakthrough hit, the cover of Prince’s Nothing Compares 2 U. Not many songs that have been played that often, one of the top 10 songs of its decade, can still stand up. I reckon it does. Every time. (I even slaughtered it in a covers band and that’ll usually do the trick but I’m still not sick of hearing it.)
Then for Sinead it was on to more covers – Black Coffee, How Insensitive, Love Letters, Secret Love, I Wanna Be Loved By You, Gloomy Sunday and Bewitched, Bothered And Bewildered. On her third album Sinead showed another side – or two. Show tunes and jazz standards, songs she grew up with. Smoky, dreamy versions. That gorgeous voice.
And then there are the guest appearances, side-projects and collaborations. A fairly thoughtful compilation called Collaborations was eventually released in 2005 – but this was largely to fill a product-hole because Sinead had retired from the music industry; quit in disgust only to return and struggle to fit in.
The Collaborations album tells some of the story but only in bits and pieces.
One of my favourite albums is Ghostland, by Ghostland. Sinead alternates with Natacha Atlas as the lead singer for this project. Check out Guide Me God, Blue and Your Time Will Come – Sinead’s contributions to the album.
There isn’t anyone that sounds like Sinead O’Connor – and she doesn’t sound like anyone but herself.
There are close to two-dozen songs posted here – and it’s just a tiny snapshot. But what incredible music, so much of this moves me still.
In recent years the focus has hardly ever been on the music but on anything else – mental health reduced to tabloid headline.
You can say that she has lost the plot or that she needs to sort it out or that she’s being selfish or whatever shortcut to thinking you care to make. Unless you’ve known the difficulties that she’s faced you cannot really comment. I haven’t.
And for that I have to feel extremely lucky – and I’m not commenting. I think, as often as I can, about all of the amazing music she has given us. A very singular artist. One of the most remarkable singers working (at one time) in popular music; gifted as a song interpreter and brave in so many of the songwriting choices she has presented.
And I try to think about the toll this has taken. And the effort that must have gone in to this music – above and beyond the effort that it takes to make a track in the basic sense of writing and recording.
Maybe we don’t always think about just what it took for an artist to make the song or album that we love so much. And if we do, we figure, all too simplistically, that it’s their choice and their job and a very privileged position and they are duly compensated.
We don’t often think about the huge emotional strain that an artist can face just to bring the music to us, just in getting the music out of them. And then it’s a whole other thing dealing with the consequence of where that music goes, what it goes on to create and mean. The career that follows the release. And we say of these people – and sometimes tothese people – that they’re so lucky.
Often it’s best to think just about the music. And what that means to you. I’ve been doing that lately with Sinead O’Connor’s music. I don’t listen to her as often now as I did 10 and 15 and 20 years ago. But I carry so much of that music with me. But for me it’s no burden to carry it.
I’m lucky, I guess.
But I do wish Sinead well. I hope she gets as well as she’s able, gets the help that she needs and finds a peace. I absolutely mean that selfishly – in a perfect world I would love to hear more amazing, edgy, powerful music. But I also hope to mean this simply because she’s given me a lot of joy through her music. And though it might not mean anything I hope she can find the happiness and peace that (surely) anyone wants.
Today she celebrates her 50th birthday.