I’ve been meaning to pick up some old Sinead O’Connor records for quite a few years now. Some time around the turn of the century (sounds funny saying that, right?) I had dug out an old VHS that I’d videotaped the 1990 episode of SNL Kyle McLaughlin hosted just after the first season of Twin Peaks. In re-watching the episode for the first time probably since shortly after it aired I was interested to see Ms. O’Connor as the musical guest. I had never really paid much attention to her before, previously dismissing her as the kind of emotional ‘chick-rock’ the popular girls in Junior High School listened to intently while agonizing over whether or not as popular girls they were socially required to date the meathead football-types* or if they could perhaps strike out and break free, choosing instead to date the meathead wrestler types**. I’m not a misogynist, this is simply how the status of the world and Sinead O’Connor’s music’s place in it appeared to thirteen year old Shawn.
Let me say right off the bat that this was not the fabled episode where Ms. O’Connor tore up the picture of the Pope. That was later. This was a straight up two-performance, no shenanigans deal and I must say, the second song she did, alone with her acoustic guitar, literally dropped my jaw. The song in question is called ‘The Last Day of Our Acquaintance’ and on this occasion it began especially slow and precocious, iterations of verse building… building… building to a massive fire-ball explosion that was so charged and potent it had the performer turning in circles while battering chords out of her acoustic guitar, shrieking and howling last regrets and pure vocalized emotion that, well quite frankly sent chills racing up my spine. This wasn’t frat girl easy listening – this was powerhouse ‘Fuck you I’m a person and this is how I feel at the end of my rope’ transduction of lucid, overpowering emotion reminiscent of other performers I love like Miss Polly Jean Harvey or Thom Yorke. The kind of total surrender to the powerful audio-emotional contaminent a talented person can create when locked in full out ‘psycho artist’ mode. Seeing this immediately put Sinead O’Connor on my radar.
Alas, that radar was then and has only become more and more jam-packed in the years since and so picking up anything by Sinead has remained an occasional ‘oh yeah, what about…’ impulse that quickly disipates upon entering the record store.
If you love music, you know how it goes. There are probably hundreds of those bands and artists out there that I either forget about or never seem to make the ‘I only have so much money this time’ cut. I loved what I’d heard but if it comes down to the new Black Francis or Sinead, well, there’s no question about which I’m choosing.
But now thanks to a friend I’ve got both I Do Not Want What I Have Not Got and The Lion and The Cobra (with the dated but still amazing ‘I Want Your (Hands on Me)). I spent the afternoon undertaking the massive task of re-writing my first novel and listening to Ms. O’Connor’s Irish angst and let me tell you, despite being unmistakeably dated by 80’s production aethetics (not a bad thing, but an ‘I gotta be in the mood’ thing) these are two classic albums that really, I think, sum up what it must have been like to be a young, non-dance popular music star in the era of Bush, Sr.
Everyone knows ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’, right?*** We all know it’s a great song, like all songs Prince wrote back in the day (yep, if you didn’t know, he wrote it). But the other songs on both albums are comparable in that they also have the really lonely, dark-bedroom and tears on the pillow quality of exploration into the many delicate crevices life often sucker punches us with. Ms. O’Connor has made little secret about her childhood, primarily the wretched bouts of child abuse she endured and overcame. That would take a lot of strength and all that strength and more is evident here. It really is a thing of power and beauty to behold.
Sometimes overproduced (again, the 80’s****) but always thought provoking and beautiful, I find myself quite interested in what came after these two, now relics, of the decade I often love to hate. What do you want to bet there’s a bunch of used copies half those popular girls traded in when they realized they didn’t have to be trapped by social norms in college and went out and bought, urgh, metallica albums? You know what ladies? Four out of five former stoners agree – you can have ’em!!!
* Being junior high there really were no football ‘players’ yet, as there was no football team, or at least, not as the omnipotent entity it would emerge as in actual High School.
** IBID but replace ‘football’ with ‘wrestling’.
*** If you don’t you should and if you do and are a Mike Patton fan find Mr. Bungle’s live cover of it from back in the day – wow!!!
**** In I Do Not…’s case 1990 but of course the first year of any new decade has more in common with the decade on the way out than the one coming in. Don’t think so? Wiki “can’t touch this and vanilla ice and see what year they ruled the commercial airwaves. The answer might surprise you…