Friday, October 06, 2006

"I will sleep with a clear conscience; I will sleep in peace."

Sinéad O'Connor

Summary: For some reason, lots of people are surprised when they find out how passionate I am about Sinéad O'Connor, probably because this is one of my loves that I keep more private. But I believe she has the best singing voice of anyone alive, and she is a songwriter of great depth and power. She has created some of my favorite songs and indeed one of my favorite albums of all time.


A Brief History of the Artist (from Yahoo! Music): Sinéad O'Connor ranked among the most distinctive and controversial pop music stars of the 1990s, the first and in many ways the most influential of the numerous female performers whose music dominated airwaves throughout the decade. Brash and outspoken -- her shaven head, angry visage, and shapeless wardrobe a direct challenge to the popular culture's long-prevailing notions of femininity and sexuality -- O'Connor irrevocably altered the image of women in rock; railing against long-standing stereotypes simply by asserting herself not as a sex object but as a serious artist, she kick-started a revolt which led the way for performers ranging from Liz Phair to Courtney Love to Alanis Morissette. (More history.)

My History With the Artist: I was sitting around the living room with my brother watching MTV during my sophomore year in high school, when all of a sudden some naked bald woman appeared on the screen. She looked like this tiny little woman, but her voice had so much power and passion. The song was "Troy," from Sinéad's first album, The Lion and the Cobra. I loved the way the song built up from quiet desperation to intense rage. (I could not find the original video online, but here is a live performance of "Troy," which conveys her passion and rage even more.)
But I will rise and I will return--
the phoenix from the flame.
I have learned,
I will rise,
and you'll see me return.
Being what I am,
there is no other Troy
for me to burn.

I kind of put it out of mind for a while, until her second video, "Mandinka" (video), came along, and I loved the opening guitar, but most of all I was captivated by Sinéad's voice. So I bought The Lion and the Cobra, and it soon became a constant companion. From the sorrow of "Jackie" to the heartbreak of "Just Like U Said t Would B" to the powerful beauty of "Never Get Old," this album is nearly perfect.

The next year, Sinéad became famous. With her stirringly poignant rendition of Prince's "Nothing Compares 2 U," Sinéad entered the mainstream in a big way. But because I was such the alternative guy, I resisted buying the new album, I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got. I did love the song and the video, but, you know, I didn't want to be a part of the selling-out of such a great talent. Well, I was wrong. My friend Jennifer told me that the rest of the album was so excellent and beautiful that I had to buy it. So I gave in, and I am glad I did.

I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got is one of the greatest album's I have ever heard, and to this day it is one of my "desert island" albums. Every song is excellent, every note is glorious. The album runs from the quiet political rage of "Black Boys on Mopeds" (video from Unplugged) to the hip-hop/Celtic fusion of "I Am Stretched on Your Grave." (My friends and I made a video of us dancing around with our friend Dawn's dog. I wish the video still existed.) The album contains one of the most beautiful songs ever made, 'Three Babies" (video, which also shows how absolutely gorgeous Sinéad is), as well as one of my favorite songs to sing along to, especielly in the car, "The Emperor's New Clothes" (video). This was her second single, which was not as successful, but it is one of those songs that I almost always have to play twice in a row. The video shows off some very weird dance moves.


But most importantly, I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got contains the song "The Last Day of Our Aquaintance," which is to me a perfect song. From the heart-wrenching lyrics to the volcanic crescendo, "The Last Day of Our Aquaintance" sits high atop the mountain. Here is a live performance of the song, which is electrifyingly good.
I know you don't love me anymore
You used to hold my hand when the plane took off
Two years ago there just seemed so much more
and I don't know what happened to our love

Then of course, Sinéad got in trouble. During an SNL performance, she ripped up a picture of the Pope, and the backlash was massive, and her career was basically ruined. The reason she did it was to protest the Catholic Church's policy of sheltering child molesters in its own ranks, which of course came to light years later, but no one understood her point at the time.

For her next album, Sinéad made a strange move and released a collection of big band songs and reinterpretations of old standards. Her voice shone beautifully through, but the album lacked some heart . . . except on the song "Success Has Made a Failure of Our Home," which is a reinvention of a Loretta Lynn song. The result is one of Sinéad's most powerful songs, still one of my favorites. But after more public lashing, she declared that she was done with the music industry.

Thankfully that did not last. In 1994, she released Universal Mother, which contained some more powerful songs of love and loss, the best of which were "Red Football" and the sublimely moving "Thank You for Hearing Me" (live performance), which builds to a devastating conclusion. And in 2000, she came back with her most upbeat and happy album, after years of working through childhood pain and loss issues. Faith and Courage got rave reviews, and I loved it too. She released a single, "No Man's Woman" (video), which did well in other countries.


Sinéad is a complex and troubled singer. She has sabotaged her own success, but through it all, she has produced wonderful, moving songs, and she has always been true to herself. Her dazzling voice, combined with her intimate songwriting, create music of fierce intensity and quiet force.

Favorite Sinéad O'Connor Album: I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got

Favorite Sinéad O'Connor Song: "The Last Day of Our Aquaintance"

Other Seminal Sinéad O'Connor Songs: "Jackie"; "Mandinka"; "Just Like U Said It Would B"; " Never Get Old"; "Troy"; "Feel So Different"; "Stretched on Your Grave"; "Three Babies"; "The Emperor's New Clothes"; Nothing Compares 2 U"; "You Cause as Much Sorrow;" "Success Has Made a Failure of Our Home"; "You Made Me the Thief of Your Heart" (video); "Fire on Babylon"; "Red Football"; "Famine"; "Thank You For Hearing Me"; "This Is a Rebel Song" (video); "No Man's Woman"; "Daddy I'm Fine"




Past Band Posts: New Order / The Smiths / Belle and Sebastian / Underworld / R.E.M. / The Beatles / The Boo Radleys / Saint Etienne/ Depeche Mode / The Chemical Brothers / The Pogues / The Charlatans UK

30 Comments:

At 7:06 PM, Blogger constant_k posited...

Okay dub this post got me thinking.

"O'Connor irrevocably altered the image of women in rock; railing against long-standing stereotypes simply by asserting herself not as a sex object but as a serious artist, she kick-started a revolt which led the way for performers ranging from Liz Phair to Courtney Love to Alanis Morissette."

Now I may be mistaken, but aren't Liz Phair, Courtney Love, and Alanis Morissette all very pretty, very sexy ladies? And for that matter, Sinnead herself is pretty damn "gorgeous" as well.

Is their sexuality somehow different from that of the female artists who came before them? I realize I don't have much perspective at all on this situation, but it seems to me that these "new women in rock" sold their sexiness just as much as any earlier female artists, but they tried to hide this fact, as if they were ashamed of their sex appeal, like it was just another obstacle for them to overcome in being taken seriously as a real artist. If that were really the case, why did they pose for all the photos and dress up for all the concerts?

The earlier women were more honest with themselves and the public: they were sexy, people liked that, and they knew it.

Now then: debunk me.

P.S.: What is your take on "selling out" in the information age? Can anyone really "sell out" when music itself has become such a commodity? My parents seem to feel very strongly that "selling out" is a terrible thing to do, but I don't see it as such a big deal.

 
At 8:46 PM, Blogger Tom posited...

yeah man, i dont know bout err'body else, but i always only liked sinead for her straight up sex appeal. also, i heard she actually wrote "london bridge" for fergie...

 
At 10:04 PM, Blogger Josh posited...

whoa tom i think sinead is good looking. much more so that the others max mentioned.

as for selling out: i think it is a terribly big deal. music is a commodity? it doesn't have to be. don't make it into one. as artists, people have a right to make money. as people, they have an obligation to live ethically. "selling out," in terms of joining a major, is not ethical. signing on a major is not as simple as signing a business contract and expanding your audience. major label owners and operators have far-reaching interests: arms manufacturing, other major corporations which use sweatshop and underage labor, corporations who pollute heavily, etc. not to mention that with a major you get a whole new form of evil advertising, fueling the type of consumerism that is slowly killing everything! buy the new ashlee simpson record! also, watch mtv!!!!!! also, four majors control 80% of the music market (sony, emi, warner, + bmg). with such a stranglehold on music, there is an obvious homogenization and also censoring of music. not to mention the disturbing extreme sexualization of bubblegum pop (reiforces body image, blah blah blah eating disorders) and the glamorization of drug and alcohol use.

what do you think paul mccartney would recieve more pleasure from: the 35 cents in royalties he recieved from your copy of RAM, or the knowledge that it was played as a soundtrack to 100 conversations and fun times at your house? what do you think chris would get more joy from? you buying a bcmp ep, or coming to a free show and having fun?

courtney love: professional drunken whore. liz phair: appeared naked on one of her cds. also has a song titled hot white cum. alanis morissette: ?

 
At 11:02 PM, Blogger Sam posited...

Well I also find Sinead attractive, it can't be denied that she unashamedely was a very different kind of attractive than mainstream ideals. I also would say she really wasn't "sexy" in that she played up her attractiveness.

Also Josh, I don't think your definition of selling out jibes with the standards onne. Most people see selling out as doing something for more money which comrpomises an artist's musical freedom. And while joining a major label which is involved in activities which you are ethically opposed to is obvously a breach of one's morals, I don't think it qualifies as "selling out" in the musical sense. Joining a major label is not inherently selling out - if an artist really gets a deal where they are allowed to do what they want (and osme, though not many do) I don't think it can be seen as selling out - the ethical practices of the company is another (though still important) issue (and in fact many artists simply don't have any perosnal objections to those activities, so you really couldn't say there was anything in their decision which violated their ethics.)

I also don't really get the Liz Phair et al connection, unless he was just saying they are confident sexy women, though I don't really see how Sinead can be credited for that.


Also, I don't think Chris' views can be used as an indicator of any sort of mainstream ideas (regardless of how sensible they may be - in this case, at least). Also PS chris got a perm or something apparently because his hair is ridiculously curly now.

 
At 11:44 PM, Blogger Josh posited...

he claims it is an afro

 
At 10:17 AM, Blogger constant_k posited...

alright josh:
A: Pretty much every aspect of our lives is to some extent produced or distributed by major corporations. Gasoline, electricity, natural gas, clothing, technology, food; multinational control of a wide variety of products, including music, is just a reality in our culture.

and B: I tend to think more of Sam's definition of selling out, as far as how "selling out" affects an artists music. I guess if someone really did allow their music to be gentrified and toned down so the brainwashed music buying public could enjoy it, then selling out really was a bad thing. But clearly, this is not always the case. As dub said, Sinnead's first "mainstream" album was his favorite one.

P.S.: I thought of a modern contrast for the whole openly-sexy/ashamed of being sexy contrast: Brittany Spears (in her prime) and...and...fuck. What was her name? The canadian one, who was all punk rock, and I hate brittany, and...shit. Complicated. You know who I mean.

Anyways, Ms. Spears was very...open with and aware of her sexuality, and the role it played in making and keeping her famous. Wheras what's-her-face was all "I hate spears" and talked about how she was so different from all the sluts in the business, but really just used this I'm-a-serious-artist-who-hates-selling-sex thing to her advantage, so she could have the credibility of a "serious artist" but still be a skinny teenage girl who dances around to sell concert tickets and videos. I just don't think you can have it both ways.

(If no one's going to debate my women-in-rock issue, I'll do it myself, Damnit.)

 
At 10:17 AM, Blogger constant_k posited...

And Chris' hair is pretty ridiculous. I saw him in the hallway picking it out yesterday.

 
At 1:40 PM, Blogger Kid C posited...

"there is an obvious homogenization"

Some of the most against-the-grain albums have come from major labels: Captain Beefheart / "Trout Mask Replica" (arugably the most groundbreaking and challenging album ever recorded), Lennon's "Plastic Ono Band", and The Stooges "Fun House" are just a few of the many examples.

 
At 11:07 AM, Blogger Pammy posited...

yeah, hukriede, but you can't really claim that groundbreaking records recorded 35 years ago, before independent distro really existed, is proof that majors today are beneficial, especially to the artistic process.

max: no shit, doesn't mean we should accept it that way.

 
At 11:08 AM, Blogger Josh posited...

uh that was me

 
At 12:09 PM, Blogger Sam posited...

max: no shit, doesn't mean we should accept it that way.

I can only assume that was in response to Chris' hair.

 
At 2:00 PM, Blogger CoachDub posited...

Josh, I know we have had this debate in the blogs before, but the entire argument seems to contradictorily privilege consumerism over art in the first place.
By only focusing on the label rather than on the music, you are saying that the business of the music is more important than the content. Even if your intent is to "protest" the consumerism of the industry, the result is the same: the company trumps the artist.

But as for the "no shit, doesn't mean we should accept it that way," your high horse is a very narrow one. Sure, you condemn the corporations for what they support, but you support them in other areas of your life. So sure, you have chosen a specific target (the music industry) for your raging against the man, and you have every right to choose this path, but you run the danger of treading on very thin holier-than-thou ice.

 
At 2:09 PM, Blogger CoachDub posited...

But I agree about the homogenization of music. Ever since The Decemberists signed with Capitol Records, their music has started sounding more and more like other Capitol artists such as Kylie Minogue, Fischerspooner, Megadeth, The Beastie Boys, and Chingy.

 
At 2:16 PM, Blogger CoachDub posited...

But in all seriousness, I do agree with the idea the homogenization of music, but I think corporations that control the media outlets, such as Clear Channel, are more to blame for this. But this doesn't mean that individual artists all start to sound the same--just that the artists that the accepting masses have access to start to all sound the same.
But since most artists that those of us who comment on this blog listen to have no hope of being played on the radio anyway, I think it may be a moot point.

 
At 3:46 PM, Blogger Kid C posited...

Okay, here are some more recent examples: Any Outkast release between "Aquemini" and "Speakerboxx", Bjork's "Homogenic", TV on the Radio / "Return to Cookie Mountain". Each of these records may not be as "groundbreaking" as those I listed earlier, but with the exception of some of the Outkast tracks, they all are much different than their contemporaries.

 
At 3:55 PM, Blogger constant_k posited...

Man, don't you wish this topic could have been on the forum?

 
At 5:00 PM, Blogger CoachDub posited...

No, because then someone would have killed it with lamery.

 
At 10:00 PM, Blogger constant_k posited...

Shhhh, tay might hear you.

(He has very muscular ears from all his rugby training)

 
At 5:54 PM, Blogger Josh posited...

concerning being holier-than-thou: duly noted. i did not mean for it to come off that way. it is just an issue that i really feel strongly about, and it is also an issue that i feel that i can bring people around to my way of thinking.

"Pretty much every aspect of our lives is to some extent produced or distributed by major corporations. Gasoline, electricity, natural gas, clothing, technology, food; multinational control of a wide variety of products, including music, is just a reality in our culture."

yes. it is a reality in our culture. like i said earlier, it doesn't have to be. i don't think it's fair to compare a true commodity like gas or electricity or even technology to something like music, which has many avenues of distubution- you can't drill it out of the ground. music is something that you can remove from corporate control as easy as releasing your own album, or having your neighbor release it, or having somebody else that doesn't own 250,000 shares of lockheed martin release it.

 
At 6:14 PM, Blogger Josh posited...

"ever since The Decemberists signed with Capitol Records, their music has started sounding more and more like other Capitol artists such as Kylie Minogue, Fischerspooner, Megadeth, The Beastie Boys, and Chingy."

i don't really think this is really a fair statement. yes, they are dissimilar, but if you put them in the context of the whole spectrum of music, they aren't really. they are all pretty good examples of the norm in their respective genres. if anything, this is a good example of why major labels are bad- instead of just ruining one or two genres, they are ruining every popular genre- making metal from a working-class boredom movement into borderline nazi racist teen angst fuel, turning the most revolutionary social protest movement of the last 30 years into a vacuous glamourization of the "thug life," making women into sex objects, etc.

i realize that there are examples of artists finding success in their own way under the major system. pure numbers skew the odds- if 10,000,000 artists get fucked by the music industry, odds are 50 or 60 will find success while still playing their music. a few quirky bands get pumped by the corporate hype-machine. the decemberists are poised to blow up, and why not? their lit-rock is accessible enough for capitol to sell it to people and yet have the people still feel smart for listening to it ( this is NOT A COMMENT on the decemberists music. i happen to enjoy it. i'm just analyzing how i would market them).

finally, i do believe that the business is sometimes as important as the content. cheeseburgers taste good. does that mean we should eat them? well, i would say no, because of the methods used to acquire and market them.

 
At 7:52 PM, Blogger Houley posited...

max: avril lavigne?

 
At 10:40 PM, Blogger constant_k posited...

Houle: Nailed it. I kept thinking "Ariel Schnur" for some reason.

And josh, releasing your own album or having a neighbor release it is not the same as having a major record label running things. Maybe you can sell a few hundred albums, but that's such a tiny number that it doesn't really compare to the vast majority of music sales, which come from major labels. It's only when a larger business is involved that music is promoted, produced, and sold at a high enough volume that it can be considered part of the music business.

I'm sure there are some guys who mine their own coal on their own land with pick-axes and headlamps, but they have such a tiny impact on the coal market as a whole that businesswise, they're negligable.

And W, I tried to replace my comment about tay but crazy beta blogger wouldn't let me. It won't have the same effect, but here's the new one anyways:
"Go ahead, dub, say it:
Tay. Tay would have ruined it."

 
At 11:35 PM, Blogger Johnny V posited...

When you live in a capitalistic society, the currency of the dissemination of information goes through capitalistic channels. Would Noam Chomsky object to his works being sold at Barnes & Noble? No, because that's where people buy their books. We're not interested in preaching to just the converted. It's great to play abandoned squats run by anarchists, but it's also great to be able to reach people with a revolutionary message, people from Granada Hills to Stuttgart.
Tom Morello

 
At 11:48 PM, Blogger Houley posited...

lol I started reading that and thought, "no way john's writing this..."

 
At 12:44 AM, Blogger Samwalkertron posited...

releasing your own album or having a neighbor release it is not the same as having a major record label running things. Maybe you can sell a few hundred albums, but that's such a tiny number that it doesn't really compare to the vast majority of music sales, which come from major labels. It's only when a larger business is involved that music is promoted, produced, and sold at a high enough volume that it can be considered part of the music business.

Actually I would disagree with this. Sure, it hasn't happened much yet, but


I was writing a response to this, but then I got bored and realised: we are debating the evils of Selling Out. I believe this is widely known as the Lamest Thing Ever to do.

 
At 8:29 AM, Blogger Serenity Now! posited...

Weird, I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got is in my car right now and I've been listening to it with intensity for about three weeks now. Your blog always seems to jive with what's going on my life. I guess that's not surprising after all our history together.

My favorite song is Three Babies. I get tears in my eyes every time it comes on. The whole album is even more powerful to me now that I have my own children.

Thanks for highlighting Sinéad.

 
At 8:56 AM, Blogger Kid C posited...

Didn't "Clap Your Hands Say Yeah!" sell like 150,000 copies without any record label? So it can be done... sort of.

 
At 11:19 AM, Blogger CoachDub posited...

A lot of "indie" bands are promoting themselves as "without a label."
But if they are promoting themselves on Rupert Murdoch-owned MySpace, what's the difference?

 
At 11:01 PM, Blogger constant_k posited...

Sam we're not debating the evils of selling out. We're debating the meaning and relevance of the term.

It's subtle, but there's a difference.

 
At 6:57 PM, Blogger constant_k posited...

"... It's great to play abandoned squats run by anarchists..."

BCMP motto.

 

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