How About I Be Me (And You Be You)
44:59 min • Shamrock Solutions • February 27, 2012
The likelihood is that, if you said “Sinead O’Connor” at a dinner party, you’d get one of the following responses; “Did you see her on Graham Norton? Doesn’t she look old!”, “What was she wearing?”, “Is she still a lesbian?”, “Is she still a priest?” or “Didn’t she marry one of her fans in vegas?”
There’s a lot of talk about her at the moment – only most of it is about her appearance and her (not so) private life; and very little is about her music. This is unlikely to change with the release of her 9th studio album, How About I Be Me (And You Be You). That’s not to say it isn’t good – it’s a great collection of well-written songs that showcase exactly why Sinead is such a huge talent.
The irony of the album’s title is pointed, as the most remarkable thing about this album is how vast her influence on other artists has been. As a result, this album comes across as derivative – regardless of the fact that Sinead was probably doing it all first. Opening track ‘4th And Vine’ feels like KT Tunstall, ‘Back Where You Belong’, and lead single ‘The Wolf Is Getting Married’ recalls Dido, and her treatment of ‘Queen Of Denmark’ could easily be a cover by Punk Cabaret superstar Amanda Palmer. For me, her obvious influence on other artists is a positive thing, and this collection of beautiful, heartwarming and frank songs come as a revelation. Everything is tackled on this album, from a personal innner dialogue to a wider social commentary.
This is an album of lyrics. Aside from the obvious, what I mean by that is that the album’s strengths (and often weaknesses) lie in its marriage of those lyrics. There’s something old, something new, something borrowed and definitely something blue. The aforementioned cover of John Grant’s ‘Queen Of Denmark’, opens with the line,
I wanted to change the world,
But I could not even change my underwear.
and the acoustic musings progress to the chorus of,
Why don’t you take it out on somebody else?
Why don’t you bore the shit out of somebody else?
Why don’t you tell someone else that they are selfish?
punctuated with rock guitars and Sinead’s signature wail kicks in over the top. This is one of a number of very special moments on the album, where she breaks away from the happy or the beautiful and really lets rip. It’s moments like this that make the album so wonderfully varied in emotion.
Elsewhere she talks about the birth of her fourth child on the beautiful ‘I Had A Baby’; and she gives a hard-hitting, visceral rant about the Catholic Church on high-point ‘Take Off Your Shoes’, demanding,
Even you can’t lie when I’m around,
Take off your shoes, you’re on hallowed ground!
recalling the urgency of her early material, claiming the church are ‘running out of battery’.
There are tender moments, and the sweet love song (yes, remarkably a sweet love song from Sinead O’Connor) ‘Old Lady’ could have been on Avril Lavigne’s last MOR album, Goodbye Lullaby, but from the opening line,
When I’m an old lady,
I’m gonna be his baby,
followed by a chorus of,
One day you’ll say “that’s my girl”
The happiest words in the world –
Make me laugh like an idiot,
Not be so serious.
it’s refreshing to hear an albeit brief moment of self-deprecating happiness.
The haunting closing track ‘V.I.P.’ again addresses her favourite soap-box topic, asking religious leaders “who is the real V.I.P.”? The track ends in a whisper, of bastardised Jeremiah 8, beginning with,
How can we say we are wise,
when we posses the instruction of the Lord.
They dress the wounds of my poor people –
saying “Peace, Peace” when there is no peace.
Saying “all is well”, when nothing is well.
culminating with the last few lines of the Lords Prayer, with one change…
For ours is the kingdom, the power and the glory,
Forever and ever … Oh Yeah!
Sinead’s constant love/hate battle with religion is articulated throughout. As an Irish Catholic from birth, I share this. She can manipulate a passage that has great meaning, and still make a joke out of it, which is a refreshingly normal attitude towards religion, and one that is hardly ever put into the public eye. Sections of Jeremiah 8 were used in the song ‘Something Beautiful’ on her last album, the musing on religion that was entitled Theology, and its obviously a passage that Sinead believes is relevant now. It’s often in times of political unrest that people turn to religion – for everything in the Bible we cannot live by in this day and age, there are words that can still touch you and provide comfort. It’s recalling history in a mantra: “they survived then and we can now”. Indeed, it’s become impossible to think about Sinead O’Connor without thinking about religion, from her famously tearing up a picture of the Pope on massive American TV show Saturday Night Live, to being ordained as a Priest in 1999. This album doesn’t shy away from those things, in fact both the Pope and the Bible come up in conversation several times within the lyrics of this record, but as always Sinead is nothing but controversial. And I wouldn’t have her any other way.
Such is the standard of Ms O’Connor’s back catalogue that this album will never be revered as a triumph – people expect too much. Yes, there is nothing as revolutionary as ‘Success Has Made A Failure Of Our Home’ or ‘Troy’. Yes, if you take away the lyrics, the music on this album is MOR. Unfortunately this type of folk was only innovative 20 years ago, paving the way for practically every female folk artist of the past two decades, which now comes across as positively Radio 2. Thankfully however, she hasn’t jumped the bandwagon and teamed up with Timbaland or Calvin Harris to release a current album. This is in places a beautifully executed and welcome return to music for an artist who changed the face of folk, and changed the lanscape and ingrained expectations of what female singer songwriters should be. The female popstars of today had Madonna, the massive waves of females with opinions and acoustic guitars had Ms O’Connor to thank for their acceptance into the industry. If you don’t expect the reinvention of the wheel you will fall in love with this album, which is testament to the fact that it didn’t need reinventing in the first place.
I may not always agree with her politics, or even think her music is flawless, but I am glad she’s come out of the presbytery and hasn’t collected her pension just yet.