Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Sinéad O'Connor

  • The Lion and the Cobra [Chrysalis, 1987] A-
  • I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got [Chrysalis, 1990] B+
  • Am I Not Your Girl? [Chrysalis/Ensign, 1992] B
  • Universal Mother [Chrysalis/EMI, 1994] B-
  • Gospel Oak EP [Chrysalis/EMI, 1997] Neither
  • So Far: The Best of Sinead O'Connor [Capitol, 1997] A
  • Faith and Courage [Atlantic, 2000] Dud
  • Collaborations [Capitol, 2005] Choice Cuts
  • Throw Down Your Arms [That's Why There's Chocolate and Vanilla, 2006] ***

Consumer Guide Reviews:

The Lion and the Cobra [Chrysalis, 1987]
Lots of Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush, goodly helpings of Irish folk and European art, touches of Laurie Anderson and Diamanda Galas and Patti Smith. Some U2, probably; Jesus, maybe some Horslips. Titles like "Troy" and "Jerusalem" and (what?) "Just Like U Said It Would B." Gaelic recitation. Loads of melodrama--loads. Yet let me tell you, there's something really riveting about the way she wails and screams and piles on the percussion effects, and "I Want Your (Hands on Me)" is as sexually obsessive as Kim Gordon at her most slatternly. Squeaky Fromme isn't the only one who can shave her head and make something of it. A-

I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got [Chrysalis, 1990]
Without a doubt this is subtler and more durable than most slow, long-winded records, and half of it is terrific. She has her own sound, her simulated plainspeech strikes a blow for directness and honesty without committing her to any one thing, and if you think "Nothing Compares 2 U" cuts Taylor Dayne on the radio, wait till you hear "The Emperor's New Clothes" cut Aerosmith. Not since Patti Smith has anybody had a better chance of defining rock-not-pop in a specifically female way--she's just the right mess of emotion and savvy, crudity and sophistication, fury and independence and love. If there's anything that's older news than a 20-year-old who's angry at the world, it's a 23-year-old who's discovered life is worth living. But all that means is that if she can withstand the media flood, this won't be all that hard to top. How can she possibly know what she wants when she's only 23? B+

Am I Not Your Girl? [Chrysalis/Ensign, 1992]
Over and above Irish-American backlash and papal maledictions from the depths of the catacombs, this muddled project stiffed because no one understood it, possibly including O'Connor. At least half the titles aren't "standards." I mean, Rice & Webber? Early Loretta Lynn? "Scarlet Ribbons"? An anticlericalist sermon? A putative Marilyn Monroe song that made a bigger splash when Helen Kane did it in 1928? A samba? Doris Day's "Secret Love" (which as it happens was the first record I ever bought, though I came to prefer the B side, "The Deadwood Stage")? All they share (except for the sermon) is that they are not rock (and also, conceivably, that O'Connor grew up with them, as she claims). But unlike La Ronstadt, O'Connor has no not-rock audience, and little not-rock savvy. Instead of hiring some reasonable substitute for Nelson Riddle--Billy May, or her Red Hot + Blue crew--she relies on high-grade hacks like Torrie Zito and Rob Mounsey. Even thorough their blare she sounds so defiant, so vulnerable, so sexual that at times she could be the greatest natural singer since Aretha. So up till the last three cuts, she almost gets away with it. But she doesn't. B

Universal Mother [Chrysalis/EMI, 1994]
I confess this has grown on me. The quiet, stunning "All Apologies" is only the latest proof of the vocal gift--part physical (clarity, texture, amplitude), part spiritual (openness, commitment)--that can make her a great cover artist. Her lullaby is a stroke, and her signoff love song arrives at a nicely unreadable tone. But from Germaine Greer's great mother of a prologue (performancewise, Farrakhan's got the sister beat) to the weeper that could tempt Bruno Bettelheim to tell moron jokes (just precisely who does "scorn" the little retard, anyway?) to the instructional rap that'll catch your ear so fast you'll waste scarcely a second pushing the next-track button (no famine OK, "post traumatic stress disorder" blarney), the framing could be a parody conceived by son of Eire P.J. O'Rourke, and it renders the album essentially inaccessible. This isn't risking foolishness--it's flaunting it. B-

Gospel Oak EP [Chrysalis/EMI, 1997] Neither

So Far: The Best of Sinead O'Connor [Capitol, 1997]
Nobody compiles better than a genius who's also a fool, and with her Gaelic/spiritual phase due to last a while, this collection is perfectly timed. I'd substitute "You Do Something to Me" and "All Apologies" for "Don't Cry for Me Argentina," which conjures Madonna with an unnecessarily competitive edge, but beyond that, "Jump in the River" is the only track I miss off the tape I long ago constructed from the first two albums. A fool who knows her own strengths is a fool we want to hear from when she's feeling better. Or do I mean worse? A

Faith and Courage [Atlantic, 2000] Dud

Collaborations [Capitol, 2005]
Sinéad O'Connor With the Blockheads, "Wake Up and Make Love With Me"; Bomb the Bass Featuring Sinéad O'Connor & Benjamin Zephaniah, "Empire" Choice Cuts

Throw Down Your Arms [That's Why There's Chocolate and Vanilla, 2006]
The words of the prophets are clear, people--so clear ("Curly Locks," "Throw Down Your Arms"). ***

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