It’s not just the provocation that’s a return to form for O’Connor on ‘How About I Be Me (And You Be You)’
Does Sinead O’Connor still have a major problem with the papacy?… Come on. Is the Pope Catholic?
He’s not the only one on her dis list. She’s also got a long-standing beef with Bono, as well as Bob Geldof, for being pontiff enablers. She alludes to her upset with her fellow celebrity Irishmen in “VIP,” the rivetingly moralistic, celebrity-bashing number that wraps up her new album.
Said album, “How About I Be Me (And You Be You),” is certainly a return to form — papal-picture-tearing-up form, that is. She slams the church and its adherents for ignoring abuses not just in “VIP” but also “Take Off Your Shoes,” a fierce tun in which she plays a ticked-off Holy Spirit, out to avenge hierarchal church corruption. If you ever wanted to hear the third member of the Holy Trinity use the F-word in a song, your moment has arrived.
Happily, the new album is also a return to form for O’Connor as a firing-on-all-cylinders singer/songwriter, provocations aside. Its surprising strengths may be a hard sell for detractors and former fans who've witnessed her squandering a good deal of remaining good will by live-tweeting what seemed to be a six-month nervous breakdown last year. But however unstable she may seem outside of her craft, what she’s doing within it is compelling enough to make the idea of letting Sinead be Sinead actually seem like a good one.
Don’t look for too many clues, though, as to what caused her last fall to advertise her specific sexual needs on Twitter, share suicidal thoughts via social media, and elope in a quickie marriage that resulted in the unhappiest wedding night for any groom this side of Lars Von Trier’s “Melancholia.”
She’s said these songs were written a few years ago. So the ebullience of the wedding-themed opener, “4th and Vine” — arguably the catchiest going-to-the-chapel song since “Chapel of Love” itself — wasn’t inspired by her recent odd nuptials, but rather a romance she had going in the late 2000s with the father of her fourth child. Who is, of course, not to be confused with her first husband, John Reynolds, a loyal guy who produced, co-wrote, and played drums on the new album. (We'll spare you the flow chart.)
The high spirits of that opening number don’t often return. By the second number, “Reason With Me,” she’s singing from the point of view of an addict desperate for some wisdom and compassion. Before too long she’s even moved on to that most evergreen of blues subjects: motherless children.
But if the misery index tends toward the high side, the beauty and force of O’Connor’s still strong voice (especially when she double-tracks it) and her peculiarly powerful songwriting never cease to captivate through all 10 tracks.
The banshee-like moments work, as when O’Connor, as the aforementioned Holy Ghost, marches onto holy ground to confront Jesus’ followers and angrily declares, “You’re running out of battery,” while Reynolds turns up the slashing guitars.
But a quiet, tender rage suits her even better, and that closing “VIP” is an angry corker. In interviews seven years ago and again recently, she’s singled out Bono and Geldof for refusing to join her personal campaign to confront the Catholic hierarchy about endemic child abuse. (You can guess why a charitable superstar might think twice about signing a Sinead petition, but so be it.) There’s no secret which stars she means when she laments: “To whom exactly are we giving hope/When we stand behind the velvet rope/Or get our pictures taken with the pope/Like some sick April Fool kind of joke.”
The song would have been better without those prosaic lines. But her more general broadsides at her fellow celebs, whom she imagines getting nervous at the pearly gates about whether they’ll be on that guest list, ring with conviction amid the nearly liturgical chant-level hush. It’s on par with the famous lyric where Dylan imagined the president standing naked before God, even if Lyndon Johnson was arguably a bigger and better target than the lead singer of U2.