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Her Best in 22 Years
on February 21, 2012
I have remained a Sinead O'Connor fan these decades, though the best of her work in at least the past ten years has been as a guest artist on other projects. Still, I dutifully purchase each new Sinead album and usually find at least a couple tracks to embrace. My expectations are low, and I certainly didn't have high ones for How About I Be Me. Have a look at the cover. In a career of really, really ugly album covers, she easily hits a new low with this one.
No one is more surprised then myself when I report how much I LOVE this album! This is her best since I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got, and perhaps her most consistently "good" album ever. Her genre/covers albums have been good for what they are, but never as inspired as her original albums. I always felt Universal Mother a bit of hit-and-miss; Faith And Courage had some strong songs, but even those were buried in horrible pop production and resting among a songbag of clunkers; Theology had some inspired lyrics, and you could feel the passion in the project, but the religious subject matter and hymn-like qualities of most of the songs keep it out of heavy rotation on my headphones. How About I Be Me is simply a very good album - there is not a single song I want to skip, and I honestly can't say that about any one of her previous efforts. This may not be a masterpiece, but it is a classic.
In exchange, I cannot say that there is any one song that strikes exactly the same chord as my favorites from her past - Jerusalem, Fire on Babylon, Troy, Mandinka. Oh, but "Take Off Your Shoes," "I Had a Baby," and "Queen of Denmark" are very VERY close - the last is a cover, and I've never heard a cover that sounded more like it was written by or for the singer. These are classic Sinead songs. Honestly, tears came to my eyes on the first listen. I never expected to hear her voice doing these things again. She uses the power and passion of her voice in a way she hasn't in years. In fact, her voice sounds better than it did on her past two albums - proof that is isn't age but lack of TLC that's been holding it back a bit (I cringe to think of her ganja-smoked croak on Throw Down Your Arms).
The material fits at home with her earlier stuff, but is never imitative. I hate when an artist tries to recapture their glory days by putting out a calculated simulation of their hey-day. These songs are of today. But they are simply as naked and sincere as her early work, which is why they are excellent. Some of them are even quite happy, celebratory, silly. In these songs, the lyrics are frustratingly weak at times, but if you've followed her work as closely as I have, you know Sinead has a penchant for disappointingly simple lyrics when she's happy about something. Still, musically, they are the catchiest songs on the album - "Old Lady," "4th and Vine," and "The Wolf is Getting Married."
That last song I'll single out is "Back Where You Belong," a reworking of a contribution she made to the "Water Horse" soundtrack a couple years ago. While the film version was absolutely beautiful, hushed, and painful, this version is a strident war song, reinvented as an anthem of sorts. I've never heard a song so dramatically reinterpreted yet equally beautiful and effective. It's a high point in her career.
Simply put, this is the album she should have released in the mid-90's. It's a progression, not a rehash, and it's everything a Sinead fan could desire at this stage in her career. These tracks were written between 2007-2009, so I'm just hoping and hoping that she hasn't slowed down in the last three years. Who knows, there may be another great album just waiting to be recorded!