This is the kind of album that usually would be expected to suck. The record company has scraped up an album's worth of extra-curricular collaborations, other people's b-sides and stuff from soundtracks of long forgotten flop movies.
However, Sinead O'Connor's Collaborations turns out to be a most excellent listen. Not only is it surprisingly good, but it turns out to be astonishingly cohesive. It works together as an album better than most of her real albums.
Most of these songs are somewhere in the range of bass heavy electronica. We're getting somewhat out of my prime area of knowledge and I'm not familiar with most of these collaborators, but I would describe some of this as dub reggae. Very little on her regular albums sounds much like this. The main reference point would be her underappreciated awe-inspiring classic "Fire on Babylon."
The heavy slow to midtempo grooves are the first things that would jump out at you. The throbbing menace of that "Special Cases" bass, and those slow foreboding strings really work. The excellent and informative liner notes by Adrian Thrills describe this collaboration with Massive Attack as "trip-hop."
Usually I find trip-hop and dub and such electronica badly lacking in the crucial area of MELODY. It's generally all about production sounds and atmospherics, not songwriting. Also, though Sinead is a highly accomplished songwriter, her name only shows up in the writing credits for four of these tracks.
Yet it turns out that most of these songs have at least some decent melody to go with all the uniformly excellent bass grooves and production sounds. Somebody could extract the song about the 1000 broken mirrors from the beautiful Asian Dub Foundation atmospherics and make it work just sitting at a piano.
Among several standout tracks, I particularly can't get enough of "Guide Me God." It's not the most songwritery thing here, but it makes for a great piece of meditation. "Guide me God, and I will find you." You might call it more a mantra than a song, but it's a beautifully rich sonic experience with a deep emotional resonance.
Perhaps even more spiritually rewarding, however, is "Wake Up and Make Love With Me." It is certainly the most directly sexual sentiment on the record. "You come awake with a gift for womenkind." Yet there's nothing remotely sleazy or cheap about her "horny morning mood." There's not even a hint of self-conscious posturing about spirituality as Prince might do, but she creates an unmistakably holy and consecrated aura.
Less holy but quite catchy, dig on "I'm Not Your Baby." This was a 1997 collaboration with U2. "Don't treat me like I'm a trick, I won't treat you like you're a prick."
U2 wrote it and Bono sings with her, but her pure physical presence totally dominates the track. Indeed, her presence totally injects a heart and soul into pretty much every track on the record. Electronica works great for her. She's enough ghost to animate any machine.
The last few songs of this full-length 79+ minute CD do somewhat trail off stylistically and quality-wise. "Up in Arms" is decent, and closer to her classic acoustic style (eg "The Last Day of Our Acquaintance"), but not especially compelling. Also, by this point, I'm missing the great electronica bass sounds that define most of the record. Yet even these weaker tracks are pretty listenable.
"All Kinds of Everything" makes for a nice little twist ending, though. It's a light acoustic ballad, with a bit of Irishy recorder sounds, very different emotionally from the heavy dramatic tone of most of the album. Mr Thrills' liner notes dismiss this duet with Specials alum Terry Hall as "a kitsch send-up of Dana's 1970 Eurovision Song Contest winner 'All Kinds of Everything.'"
I don't see kitsch in this at all. It might seem slightly ironic to be picking up something from such a source, but there's nothing in bad taste or tawdry or obviously insincere about the song. It's in fact a perfectly good, catchy little song. Not that it's in such an exalted league, but it reminds me a bit of "My Favorite Things." It's fairly light, but Sinead gently and quite casually invests the song with pretty good emotional throw weight.
All in all, this rates as one of Sinead's more interesting albums. If you're into Sinead O'Connor or electronic dance music, you definitely need to hear it.
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