Second only to Courtney Love on the list of brilliant, powerful female rockers whose notorious personal troubles have threatened to eclipse the reasons why we cared about them in the first place, Sinead O’Connor actually has been much more successful than La Love in crafting a recent body of work that, while almost ridiculously diverse—from the traditional Irish ballads of Sean-Nós Nua in 2002, to the reggae detour of Throw Down Your Arms in 2005, to the more typically Sinead re-workings of both on Theology in 2007—has been consistently rewarding, even if it’s received much less attention than anything since her first two releases in the late ’80s or her ’90s high point Universal Mother. And her latest offering certainly is no exception.
The theme of the 45-year-old singer’s ninth album is, by her own admission, letting the music and her erupting anger at various social injustices seize the spotlight back from her personal battles with bipolar disorder. And she’s doing it with considerable self-deprecation and good humor, whether it’s by her choice of a brutally funny cover (John Grant’s “Queen of Denmark,” with its key line, “I wanted to change the world/But I could not even change my underwear”) or via an impressive new set of originals.
Some of these are confessional (“I Had a Baby” or “Old Lady,” which ends with a poignant and welcome refrain of “Make me laugh like an idiot/Not be so serious”) and some are outwardly raging (“Take Off Your Shoes” and “V.I.P.,” both angry responses to the Catholic church’s sexual abuse scandals). Some are optimistic (the romantic ode to marriage, “4th and Vine,” from an artist married four times) and some are considerably less so (the junkie’s plea “Reason With Me”). Some rock with a vengeance, and some are quiet, lilting ballads, both characterized by relatively sparse instrumental backing that keeps that still-stunning voice front and center. But all of them pack not only a powerful emotional punch but a celebratory joy in the act of making music that make the aptly titled How About I Be Me (And You Be You)? the strongest effort in the second half of an extraordinary career.
Rating on the four-star scale: 3.5 stars.