Sinead O'Connor.fw
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Sinead O’Connor

Never one to side with convention or staid contemporary pop music, the feisty feminist and identifiably shaven-headed SINEAD O’CONNOR was never far from the maddening crowd of any media backlash via her outspoken comments. When one thinks of Irish politics, religion and pop culture, one probably views U2 (mainly Bono), BOB GELDOF and The POGUES as controversial figures in their day – and then there arrived SINEAD O’CONNOR, a rebellious lady with several novel’s worth of troubles in her mind-set. Despite all her forthright points of view, she is one heck of an emotional singer.
Born Sinead Marie Bernadette O’Connor, 8 December 1966, Glenageary, County Dublin, she was raised in the Irish capital until her parents divorced when she was only 8 years old; she later attended a Dominican nun-run centre for girls with behavioural problems. Subsequently expelled from school, arrests for shoplifting, truancy and the usual adolescent traits led her straight to the door of reformatory school (the infamous Magdalene Asylum), aged 15.
Duly attending Dublin’s College of Music in 1984 and after a stint as guest on IN TUA NUA’s album, Sinead joined local band Ton Ton Macoute, where she met future manager, Fachtna O’Ceallaigh. In 1986, he arranged for her to guest on U2’s The Edge’s soundtrack album, Captive, performing on the track `Heroine’. She was soon spotted by Nigel Grainge and Chris Hill of Ensign Records, who signed her up later that year. The following April, Sinead guested for stablemates WORLD PARTY (aka Karl Wallinger) on the album `Private Revolution’.
Finally, toward the end of ‘87, she issued her debut solo 45, `Troy’, while early the following year, Sinead scored her first Top 20 hit with `Mandinka’, reactivating sales of her attendant debut album, THE LION AND THE COBRA (1987) {*8}. The record presented O’CONNOR as a shaven-headed, angel-faced nightingale in wolf’s clothing, her soul-wrenching vocals capable of conveying the rawest of emotions from visceral rage to heartfelt compassion. Self-produced due to Sinead becoming pregnant by session drummer and husband-to-be John Reynolds (he of TRANSVISION VAMP fame), the record also revealed the Irish maverick to be adept at flitting between contrasting musical styles with surprising ease; from the hypnotic pop of the aforementioned `Mandinka’ to the suggestive rhythmic pulse of `I Want Your (Hands On Me)’.
But while she proved to be a fiercely independent, original pop star, O’CONNOR applied the same passion to fanning the flames of controversy, the first furore of many verbal discretions arriving when she allegedly defended the actions of the IRA at the same time as calling U2’s sound as “bombastic”; she later retracted the statements as nonsense due to her youthful non-understanding of the tense troubles north of the border. On the music front, another highly-regarded guest spot was for THE THE/Matt Johnson and a duet (`Kingdom Of Rain’) on his `Mind Bomb’ set of ’89.
At the turn of the 90s, O’CONNOR was perhaps more famous for her outspokenness than her music, although that changed briefly with the massive worldwide (also transatlantic No.1) success of `Nothing Compares 2 U’. A cover of an obscure PRINCE song (written for proteges The Family) with arrangements by Nellee Hooper, the track’s languid atmospherics provided a perfect platform for Sinead’s tear-soaked vocals. The song (and video) catapulted her into the superstar bracket and the accompanying album, I DO NOT WANT WHAT I HAVEN’T GOT (1990) {*9}, sold by the million. Recorded amid the break-up of her first marriage, the album was a largely downbeat affair with the angry intensity of old strangely muted; early in ‘91, she was the first ever person to refuse a Grammy, which she would’ve won for Best Alternative Album.
Courting controversy wherever she landed, O’CONNOR, the feisty firebrand, was back with a vengeance in 1992; the singer infamously ripping up a photo of Pope John Paul II on American TV show Saturday Night Live, protesting about anti-legalizing Irish abortion. Hardly endearing her to the country’s Catholic population, this incident, combined with her earlier refusal to play a show which began with a rendition of the American national anthem, undoubtedly contributed to the strength of anti-Sinead feelings running high at the Madison Square Garden BOB DYLAN tribute in October that year. Booed off stage, a tearful O’CONNOR was led away by KRIS KRISTOFFERSON in what must’ve been one of the most harrowing moments of her career; she had sang a rendition of BOB MARLEY’s `War’.
The attendant press overkill all but obscured the fact she actually had a new album on the shelves, a covers set of vintage torch ballads entitled AM I NOT YOUR GIRL? (1992) {*5}. While the record made the Top 10, it unsurprisingly failed to perform quite so well in the States. Her interpretations of mainly jazz staples, dedicated to the homeless of New York City, was commendable if falling on deaf ears. Having earlier covered the likes of Cole Porter’s `You Do Something To Me’ and `My Heart Belongs To Daddy’ (others of note being Ira Gershwin’s `Someone To Watch Over Me’ and ETTA JAMES’ `Damn Your Eyes’), there was a wide range of the classics from `Secret Love’ and DAN PENN’s `Success Has Made A Failure Of Our Home’ to `Love Letters’, `Scarlet Ribbons’ and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s `Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’ (a minor hit).
1993 brought trauma of a more personal nature; O’CONNOR’s claims of abuse by her mother (who’d died in a car crash in ’85) resulted in a family feud with her father and brother, leading to a subsequent breakdown and suicide attempt. Facing her demons head-on, the singer recorded some of her most nakedly uncompromising material to date for UNIVERSAL MOTHER (1994) {*7}, the often bleak starkness of the lyrics contrasting with the warmth of the tranquil arrangements and melodies. Although critically acclaimed in some quarters, the album (featuring `Fire On Babylon’ and a re-vamp of NIRVANA’s `All Apologies’) failed to match the sales of her previous efforts and her subsequent refusal to give interviews led to a drop in profile over the ensuing few years.
The first fruits of her new deal with Columbia Records, even the defiant `This Is A Rebel Song’ (from the `Gospel Oak’ EP) failed to charge up the enthusiasm of the record buying public in late ‘97. While many pundits may have pointed out that O’CONNOR was her own worst enemy, there was no denying the potential of her talents, and it was assumed it’d be a tragedy if this survivor were to be confined to the musical margins.
After yet more domestic controversy, Sinead eventually re-emerged in 2000 with FAITH AND COURAGE {*6}, another testament to her continuing creativity and relevance as an artist against (usually considerable) odds. The likes of `No Man’s Woman’ suggested that her fiercely independent fire had only been fanned by events of the last few years, while the record’s underlying spiritual bent confirmed her recent religious ordination.
O’CONNOR once revealed in a magazine article that VAN MORRISON’s `Veedon Fleece’ was one of her all-time favourite albums, a journey into the Irish mystic which perhaps informed the idea, if not the actual music of SEAN-NOS NUA (2002) {*6}. Like Van had done many times throughout his career, if never in such a concentrated burst, Sinead cast her spell over the traditional music of her homeland in such a fashion as to reinvent it. Also in common with MORRISON, her interpretations were charged with a drifting, intoxicating spirituality, even when the subject matter – as so often in folk music – veered towards tragedy.
Only a singer as determinedly singular in her approach as O’CONNOR could have gotten away with a title like SHE WHO DWELLS IN THE SECRET PLACE OF THE MOST HIGH SHALL ABIDE UNDER THE SHADOW OF THE ALMIGHTY (2003) {*7}, a collection of live, unreleased and B-side material. Despite stretching to more than 30 tracks over 2 discs, the material was never less than hypnotic: arguably no artist alive could bring quite so much of her own, wayward spirit to other people’s songs; 2005’s collective COLLABORATIONS {*6} emphasized this point; just ask MASSIVE ATTACK, PETER GABRIEL, TERRY HALL, JAH WOBBLE, MOBY and, among many other stars, U2.
From her Rasta/dub-friendly set (produced by SLY & ROBBIE) THROW DOWN YOUR ARMS (2005) {*7}, to the largely disappointing THEOLOGY (2007) {*5} double-CD (one session recorded in Dublin, the other in London), Sinead kept some sort foothold in a flagging musical career. Having married for a second time in 2002 (to Nicholas Somerlad), a relationship with Frank Bonadio (father of her fourth child and former hubby to MARY COUGHLAN), she wed long-time friend Steve Cooney in July 2010, but nine months later the admittedly bi-sexual Sinead was divorced and willing to marry for a fourth time (to Irish therapist Barry Herridge).
Back on track having signed to One Little Indian Records, her musical focus was recouped on umpteenth set HOW ABOUT I BE ME (AND YOU BE YOU)? (2012) {*7}. Writing with her first husband John Reynolds (her long-time producer whom she’d always maintained a professional relationship), the record saw her back in the Top 40; even Americans forgave her slightly as it bubbled under the Top 100. Consisting of rare upbeat track, `4th & Vine’, the balance was certainly lying toward the dramatic and melancholy; best bits stemming from `Old Lady’, `The Wolf Is Getting Married’, JOHN GRANT’s `Queen Of Denmark’ and her heart-breaking hymn aimed at Ireland’s Catholic church’s systematic child abuse, `V.I.P.’.
A re-invention of sorts (going by her sassy guitar-hugging photo-shoot), 2014’s I’M NOT BOSSY, I’M THE BOSS {*6} was good enough to sit just outside the Top 20 (Top 100 over the big pond!), and one that landed her in a bitchy war with “Wrecking Ball” kid MILEY CYRUS; Sinead meant well in her motherly sentiments about the fickle music world, but like many of her statements, it was basically ignored. Nevertheless, the old girl combined well with World Music artist SEUN KUTI for a song about `James Brown’. Multi-tracked in many areas and featuring ENO contributing somewhere down the line, there was country-gospel in `Dense Water Deeper Down’, spiritual sentimentality in `The Vishnu Room’ (the album’s original title) and that warning of sorts, `8 Good Reasons’.
© MC Strong 1994-2004/GRD/BG/MCS // rev-up MCS Apr2015

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