SINEAD O'CONNOR, Hammersmith Odeon, London
Melody Maker, January 2 1988
by Simon Reynolds
Nina Simone’s “My Baby Just Cares For Me”*--the clubland secret, the
cult trophy--went High Street provincial, Top Ten Top Shop. A monopoly on suffering
invested in soul/jazz/gospel, by a London hipster elite over five years
ago, has now been installed as a pop cultural hegemony. I like to think
that the massive success of “My Baby Just Cares” indicates the final
exhaustion of the process (carried through by Absolute Beginners,
The Style Council, Alison Moyet’s “That Ole Devil Called Love”, Working
Week, the risible Carmel and her “ba da da oh yeahs”, Swans Way,
countless copyists, endless reissues) whereby “vintage” jazz-and-soul
have become both an oppressive model of authenticity and a LUDICROUS
SEPIA CARTOON. I can’t get to this music anymore, can’t cut through the
dense cloud of signifiers, the berets, the suits, the cigarette smoke…
fascinates me now is a certain troubled space, a potential, that has
recurred in AOR over the years. Not a “period”--I have no knowledge, no
images (bar details one prefers to shut out of the mind: capes, long
beats, sideburns, facial hair) and thus no nostalgia. The traces of real
desperation in Fleetwood Mac’s “Little Lies” have plunged me into
vertiginous retrospective fascination with the dolorous languor of
Stevie Nicks (“Dreams”, “Gold Dust Woman”, “Gypsy”) and other mysterious
figures like John Martyn, Sandy Denny, Roy Harper. The West Coast sound
(from which followed both UK folk-rock and American AOR/FM-oriented
soft-rock) came about when folkies like Jefferson Airplane went electric
without any intervening period of involvement in R&B. I think
Sinead O’Connor must have made a similar leap.
She takes the attractiveness
of AOR and turns it into beauty, through her voice and her subject
matter. She makes the A in AOR stand for ‘adolescence’, a phase that’s
both more embarrassing and more noble than the even keel of adulthood.
Similarly, her voice combines awkwardness and grandeur.
a voice that burns like ice: like Grace Slick, the prototype for all
ice queens, it goes through you like a lance of stalactite. Unlike your
Tina Turners, pain is not signified by gritty timbre, exaggerated
tremulousness or a heave from the gut; like her ghost-folk peers, the
voice is pure and clear, and emotional disarray is expressed in swerves,
catches, lapses, somersaults, abrupt leaps between octaves. On
“Mandinko” Sinead towers, then collapses immaculately, like a house of
cards; on “Never Get Old”, there’s an exquisite shudder, almost like
tape drop out. Sinead’s voice is majestic but never robust, like Lennox
or Armatrading; rather, it’s harrowed but defiant.
Kristin Hersh has described what she does as a real female
violence. Women bottle up their anger, turn it inwards, sometimes as
self-mutilation. Sinead O’Connor’s work is an exorcism of all that. It’s
music that’ll appeal to girls who want to be different rather than
normal, boys who think problems are more attractive than strengths, and
anyone who believes suffering imparts depth.
was marred a little by a lack of atmosphere: the philistine fans of
headliner INXS’s Noo Wave techno-rock preferred to loiter in the lobby,
her band are able but faceless, and Sinead herself seemed a little
sullen--a thin, pale figure in punky tartan. But when she got into it,
the results were spellbinding, in particular the sublime “Never Get
Old”, her voice traversing a terrain wherein met Tim Buckley, Clannad,
Ofra Haza, ECM’s languid Scandinavian neo-jazz, Liz Frazer and raga.
Never mind. Autonomy has rarely been so seductive.
of course I loved and love the Simone song (who doesn't? who couldn't?
it's a bit like "Say A Little Prayer For You" in that respect) and today
would much rather hear it for the umpteenth time than anything on