To Baldly Go

By Greenman, Ben | The New Yorker, February 13, 2012 | Go to article overview

To Baldly Go


Greenman, Ben, The New Yorker


Sinead O'Connor has always had a talent for distracting people from her talent. In 1992, she famously tore up a picture of Pope John Paul II on "Saturday Night Live," and, slightly less famously, was booed offstage at a Bob Dylan tribute weeks later. This past year has seen a resurgence of her eccentricity, starting with some funny, profane blog posts that she wrote about her sexual frustration and continuing though a whirlwind marriage that quickly fell apart and was just as quickly put back together, amid stories of drug use, depression, and even suicidal thoughts.

It's tempting to say that this litany of iffy behavior detracts from O'Connor's superb new album, "How About I Be Me (And You Be You)?" (One Little Indian), but, in fact, it frames it. After her first rise to stardom, capped off by her cover of Prince's "Nothing Compares 2 U," she mostly retreated into genre exercises, from show tunes to Celtic folk to reggae. That's why the opening song here, "4th and Vine," is such a welcome surprise: its jaunty little guitar figure and tie-the-knot fantasy are cheerier than almost anything she's done, and her vocals remain transfixing (the way she handles the word "church," which is both breathed and sung, is a master class all to itself).

In her headlong, almost reckless devotion to truth-telling, O'Connor has sometimes seemed like a female version of John Lennon, and she still goes after her targets with knives out, whether the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church, again ("Take Off Your Shoes"), or celebrity narcissism ("V. …

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