Album review: Sinead O'Connor shows who's boss

On record, Sinead O'Connor is brazen, flawed, unapologetic, silly, strong and, most of all, honest. -- PHOTO: NETTWERK
On record, Sinead O'Connor is brazen, flawed, unapologetic, silly, strong and, most of all, honest. -- PHOTO: NETTWERK

Sinead O'Connor is scarier, ruddier and altogether more visceral in her latest reincarnation

There's a track called Harbour on Sinead O'Connor's 10th album, I'm Not Bossy, I'm The Boss, which shares the name of a song she recorded for Moby back in 2002.

The older song was a delicate, ambient elegy in which she moans about streets full of people fighting and "the saddest song to play/on the strings of my heart".

The new one, though, is more specific - a disturbing portraiture of a "broken 14-year-old girl" who "hasn't been allowed to tell/what actually happened in hell".

It starts off on softly shimmering synths until her voice, lower and raspier now, rides on a maelstrom of drums and guitar, determined to wake up the gods.

The effect is scarier, ruddier and altogether more visceral.

The same can be said of the latest reincarnation of O'Connor, who hasn't sounded this limber and utterly in her own (heavily tattooed) skin in a long time.

The album title - a nod to the Ban Bossy campaign headed by Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg - is her way to reclaim herself from the persona mired in the gossip columns and offline troubles (the most recent being her spat with Miley Cyrus).

On record, O'Connor is brazen, flawed, unapologetic, silly, strong and, most of all, honest. Whether addressing a prickly topic such as suicide in the moody jeremiad 8 Good Reasons or reasserting her own pride in the self-independence treatise How About I Be Me, she doesn't sugar-coat.

She can be both strident and ridiculously catchy at the same time, such as on Take Me To Church, in which she rattles off a laundry list of songs she wants to sing from now on.

At the same time, I'm The Boss isn't strictly autobiographical - the songs are stories about a bashful bride, a sexy lover, a vulnerable girl and a feminist who doesn't think she is one - but she inhabits each role as if it's her last.

To that end, she refuses to be pigeonholed. Musically, the album traipses across rock, pop, reggae and Indian rhythms with a lustfulness drawn from the funky vibes of Chicago blues (Howlin' Wolf, Buddy Guy).

"Oh you've gone and let another/fool make a fool out of you," she lashes out with delicious venom in the heavy rocker The Voice Of My Doctor, and then boogies with lissom coquettishness as she yelps in James Brown, a funky, slinky number featuring Seun Kuti on saxophone.

Even when she puts down arms, in the synth-and-xylophone closer Streetcars, her starkness still sends chills down one's spine.

"If I were dying…/what would I want with me?" she calls out, and you're left wondering about your own decision too.

stlife@sph.com.sg

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