Sinead O’Connor and Dolores O’Riordan, two of Ireland’s greatest female rock singers, released albums these past couple of weeks.
Because of her high profile, it’s a safe bet that O’Connor’s How About I Be Me (And You Be You)? will get the most attention. O’Connor has been a darling of the tabloids for most of her career, but this last year was extraordinary even for her standards.
Since last summer her life has been one drama after another. In August she advertised online for a boyfriend, found Dublin drugs counselor Barry Herridge and quickly married him, split up with him and was reconciled (twice), attempted suicide and was hospitalized, either for depression or bipolar disorder.
Those of you who buy Sinead’s album looking to pore through her lyrics for reflections on this circus life won’t need a magnifying glass.
The album opener, “4th and Vine,” details her whirlwind marriage on the Las Vegas Strip last year over a bluesy skiffle shuffle that would sound right at home on Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks.
“I’m gonna put my pink dress on/and do my hair up tight/and put some eye liner on/I’m gonna look real nice/I’m gonna go to the church/on 4th and Vine/gonna marry my love/we’re gonna be happy for all time,” she sings.
It’s a gutsy move to open the album with this track, given the very public embarrassment she suffered when she and Herridge separated less than three weeks later.
But isn't that why we fell in love with her in the first place? Sinead has never played by anyone else’s rules, knowing full well she had one of the best voices on the planet to back up the reality show celebrity element that swirls around her.
Anyone who doubted the power of that voice in the 25 years since The Lion and the Cobra should click on the bonus track on this album. Her classic “I Am Stretched On Your Grave,” recorded at the Iceland Airwaves festival last October, will bring some of that Icelandic chill to your spine as the singer, unaccompanied by any instrument, fills the space of the concert hall with that pristine voice.
Even her own mental health is fair game for lyrical inspiration.
“I wanted to change the world/but I couldn’t even change my underwear/and when the s*** got really really out of hand/I had it all the way up to my hairline/which keeps receding like my self-confidence/as if I had any of that stuff anyway,” she sings on the riveting “Queen of Denmark.”
The ten very best ways to spend St.Patrick’s Day this year ----------------- On “The Wolf Is Getting Married,” she winks at the notion of her monstrous reputation in the chorus as she wraps the rocker brilliantly with gushed schoolgirl love letter fodder with lines like “the sun’s peeping out of the sky/where it only used to be grey.”
Like most iconic artists, the magic happens when the mighty voice meets a great story, and that happens all over the album.
In the harrowing “Reason with Me,” O’Connor plays a junkie who’s gonna call that number “one of these days.” “Hello/you don’t know me/but I stole your laptop and I took your TV/and I sold your granny’s rosary for 50P,” she sings, a letter to her victim that almost apologies for the damage she had to do for her next quick fix.
The album’s title, How About I Be Me (And You Be You)?, would imply that Sinead just wants to be left alone to live her life in peace and quiet.
But if that’s the case, she wouldn’t open her mouth again and would instead retreat to her Wicklow abode and draw the curtains to the outside world.
The courage it took to make such a raw, bruising musical diary of her life is a refreshing burst of honesty in this plastic pop era when televised singing competitions make singers into stars.
Sinead’s reality is the real stuff you won’t find on the boob tube. Can you handle it?
The Cranberries’ album Roses is no less newsworthy because it marks the band’s first recording in nine years.
It is a joyous return to form for the band and O’Riordan, a lioness of a singer often compared to O’Connor.
“I was very much into trying to capture the intimacy and the innocence of that first album,” says producer Stephen Street, who has worked with Morrissey, the Smiths and Blur over the years.
“Listening back on the first album, there was something about these four kids coming together from Limerick -- they were this tight, intimate little unit. Of course, it proceeded to go global.
“Since then, Dolores has had to project to the world. In doing this album, I mentioned to Dolores that I wanted to convey her lines in a more warm, inward way than projecting out to the world. I think it happened here and it made for a better sounding album.”
As a son of a Limerick woman, I remember brimming with pride when the Cranberries’ “Linger” charmed the planet all those years ago.
That little coffee house doodle gave way to the roar of “Zombie,” proving that O’Riordan could snarl with the best of them. That vocal range is displayed beautifully on Roses.
The ten very best ways to spend St.Patrick’s Day this year ----------------- “I think that you’re mad/you spend a lot of time in your head/if you could come away with me/you should have some faith in me/tomorrow could be today/if only you had some faith/too young, too proud/too foolish,” she coos.
“Fire and Soul” is another breathy vocal delivery by O’Riordan. Your eyeglasses fog over as she sings “lose yourself/fall off the fence/where is your fire and soul?”
The classic gentle beginning/tiger’s roar dynamic of days gone by is represented on tracks like “Losing My Mind.”
Even though Street captured the Cranberries as we knew and loved them back in the nineties, there are tons of new sounds that break new ground.
“Waiting in Walthamstow” re-imagines “Eleanor Rigby” as a show tune. Roses closes with “Always,” a hopeful rocker.
With a collection of songs this good, the Cranberries are firmly back in the pop orbit in a galaxy that missed them so much!