“You know I love to make music/But my head got wrecked by the business,” 47-year-old Sinead O’Connor sings on “8 Good Reasons,” midway through her 10th studio album, and anyone with even a passing familiarity with her career in the new millennium knows that’s the stone-cold truth. (It’s also what she was trying to tell Miley Cyrus in that controversial online exchange.) But as frustrated as O’Connor is with the machinery of pop stardom, and as turbulent as her personal life has been at times, her music rarely has suffered, and her voice never has diminished.
In recent years, the artist has dabbled with traditional Irish folk song (Sean-Nós Nua, 2002), reggae (Throw Down Your Arms, 2005), and a combination of both (Theology, 2007). She took a turn back toward more familiar Sinead sounds on her last effort, How About I Be Me (And You Be You)? (2012). But one thing still was missing: any hint of the unqualified fun and (relative) glamor of her beloved early work in the late ’80s and early ’90s. (And hard to believe, but it’s been nearly a quarter-century since “Nothing Compares 2 U.”)
From the diva-dominatrix cover art to the slicker, pop-rock production—courtesy of ex-husband John Reynolds, who also has worked with Belinda Carlisle and Damien Rice—O’Connor sounds more loose and au courant than she has in years on I'm Not Bossy, I'm the Boss. Yet despite the bounty of hooks, the rollicking rhythms, a convincing attempt to get funky (with Fela Kuti’s son Seun on “James Brown”), a resurgent sensuality bordering on unbridled horniness (the disc opens with the declaration, “I wanna make love like a real full woman, everyday”), and the assertion that this is “just an album of love songs,” the singer certainly isn’t lightening up. We still get familiar rants about the things that anger her, including the hypocrisy and cruelty of the church (“Harbour”) and the absurdity of modern celebrity-worship (“Where Have You Been?”). But she also embraces the contradictions of loving life in a world that’s sp horribly screwed up.
In addition to standing as one of her strongest tracks ever, the gospel-tinged “Take Me to Church” indicates that, at long last, the incredible, troubled, and very necessary voice has found a measure of peace, if only in making music. “I'm gonna sing/Songs of loving and forgiving/Songs of eating and of drinking/Songs of living,” she wails. And we’re lucky to hear and revel in them.
Sinead O’Connor, I'm Not Bossy, I'm the Boss (Nettwerk Music Group)
Rating on the 4-star scale: 4 stars.