True Soul Singer 'Faith and Courage' Helps Sinead O'Connor Become Her Own Woman
Guarino, Mark, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Pick a difficult path and Sinead O'Connor will walk it. I'm not talking shaving her head or ripping up a picture of the Pope - two acts that have made the Irish singer both a cartoon and a demon in some circles.
What O'Connor achieves on "Faith and Courage" (Atlantic, four stars), her first full-length album in six years, is unheard of in the secular marketplace. Beneath the cool programmed beats and haunted soul singing is not simply a thirst for spiritual satisfaction, but a dire craving: "everything in the world would be OK/if people just believed enough in God to pray," she sings on "The Lamb's Book of Life," one of many new songs which could likely double as prayers.
But don't expect her to be touring with Christian music flag- wavers Jars of Clay or Rebecca St. James any time soon. The perspective of "Faith and Courage" is not exactly evangelical. There is less soul saving, and more soul baring, making it a confessional spiritual listen, and one to relate to.
It shines from such star-heavy production polish. Taking a cue from Mariah Carey or Janet Jackson, whose album liner credits read like the Titanic guest log, O'Connor has assembled a sizable team of producers and songwriters to flesh out this state of her union. It's a more grown-up record than any in her past because of it. The assembly of producers - Wyclef Jean, Dave Stewart, Brian Eno and others - blend the wounded sounds of her Celtic background with programmed beats and keyboards, both watery smooth and danceable.
The songwriting aid broadens the palette for the often pigeonholed O'Connor to work from, while still keeping things within reason. Scott Cutler and Anne Preven, who penned "Torn" for Natalie Imbruglia, contribute the dance pop anthem "No Man's Woman" a funky stand for independence any riot grrl would envy, while the cool yearning of "The State I'm In," makes it a natural follow-up to "Nothing Compares 2 U."
The mature and spiritual stance is a long way from O'Connor's ragged and defiant 1987 debut, "The Lion and the Cobra" (Chrysalis) whose lusty single, "Lay Your Hands On Me," introduced the 21-year- old Dublin singer to the world. While that album's follow-up, "I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got" (Ensign), presented a remarkable array of emotionally charged songs, O'Connor became more famous for her outspokenness which included criticizing the Catholic Church, withdrawing her own Grammy nominations that year and defending the IRA. …