For her first new album after a self-declared retirement, Sinead O'Connor has recorded an album of reggae covers with Sly and Robbie. Short version: This is a well made and quite listenable record, but it ain't all that.
I will tend to discount my own regards for Sinead records a little bit, as I know that I'm kinda weird about her. She has a lot of significance to me as a psychic force, so maybe I'm not critical enough.
Given that, if she can't get me all excited about a record, it can't be that good. I'm enjoying this album pretty much, but it's just not that particularly great. She's a great singer, and the songs are expertly arranged and played by real reggae guys, but still.
The problem is that these songs are mostly just not that good. I've listened to the thing at least half a dozen times through, and I can individually remember anything significant about only three of these songs.
One of those I will discount: "War." I remember this Bob Marley song because it was her career suicide note, the song that she performed as she was tearing up the picture of the pope on SNL. She obviously attaches great significance to it, but it's just not much of a song in the critical MELODIC element.
"War" also has a trite lyric. It's strident and childish and just not a very well-stated sentiment on an artistic level, regardless of the politics. Even if you agree with whatever exactly the politics are supposed to be, it's just not a very interesting statement.
That puts a lot of the weight of this album on two songs that have some sticking power. Probably the best song on the album is "Curly Locks." Considering that it's ol' hardcore Sinead O'Connor with real reggae guys, the whole album comes out feeling fairly light in style and tone- to good benefit. "Curly Locks" in particular sounds like pure pop.
The songs works as a whispered seduction, gently trying to lure away a young Jamaican boy against the wishes of his parents. This features probably the strongest and most memorable melody on the album, and the truest and most real emotion. Inevitably, all the Rasta lyrics are going to come out of Sinead as being somewhat of an affectation, whereas a simple love song lyric is more personally and universally true.
Still, the other really cool song here is "Vampire," which is deep in Rastafarian mystique. "Obadiah, Obadiah- Jah Jah sent us here to catch vampire." That key line makes a strong melodic hook specifically, and it also sets up some cool mythological sounding drama. It's not quite enough to make me research these characters like a geek looking for a backstory, but it plays real interesting in the context of Sinead's career against, for starters, the dragon slaying she wanted to do in "Troy" all the way back on her first album.
The whole album sounds really good, in a general way. They achieved a consistency of tone, a light touch that serves the material really well. Plus, Sinead dialed down like this gently invests a greater deal of passion than 99.9% of singers could achieve by belting away. She can do subtle. This album could be very instructive to aspiring singers.
But these songs just are not good. Sinead O'Connor is the singingest chick walking the Earth. If she can't sell the song, then there probably wasn't much of a song there to start with. Except for "Curly Locks" and "Vampire" these are simply not very memorable compositions, regardless of how famous or highly reputed or cool the original artists may be considered.
If you're interested in the idea of Sinead singing reggae, start with the Collaborations album put out earlier this year. [REVIEW] It's a compilation of songs recorded over a number of years, side projects and guest shots and stuff-mostly in the range of bass-heavy dub reggae. In theory, that sounds like a half-ass cash-in thing for completists, but in practice it's got a considerably stronger set of songs, deeper emotional investment and more uniquely personal style. It's a superior album to this on pretty much every level.
After that, if you're still hungry for Sinead reggae, Throw Down Your Arms would be a pretty tasty follow-up.
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