Sporting a title as fit for Joan Jett as herself, Sinead O’Connor’s tenth album over a career that spans almost three decades is a continuation of her tried and patented glam/soft rock mix that tackles the intimate human condition in tandem with worldly affairs. Overall, the Irish singer-songwriter delivers an impressive romp of pop, but it does have several compositional flaws that belie either a lack of ideas or a lack of emotion from a typically impassioned artist, in addition to an extremely unsteady lyrical base on female empowerment.
As compared to the previous few albums, the tracks on I’m Not Bossy are shorter and more succinct; there are no six-minute rockers here, but a collection of 12 three- and four-minute ballads. The album starts off with the empowering be-all-that-you-are anthem How About I Be Me, which is a bit cheesy, but at least a good start. Harbour is an incredible song, building from a low, basic fingerpick and multi-tracked vocals to an explosive climax of furious intent. It is easily the best track on the entire work, and ranks up with some of O’Connor’s strongest material in her entire career. The name-checking James Brown features Fela Kuti’s son Seun Kuti, and his saxophone brings in a hot injection of life and adrenaline in what would have otherwise been a so-so party jam.
I’m Not Bossy’s name was changed from The Vishnu Room under the context of the recent Ban Bossy campaign, which seeks to change perceptions of the word “bossy” when applied to young women to assist in their professional, academic, and personal development. The sentiment behind the album’s title is undeniable, but it comes across more like an immature rejoinder to a bathroom stall comment than it does a profound statement. It gives the album an already shaky floor that is exacerbated by the youthful image that O’Connor seems to being going for on the album cover; the heavily made-up skin and lustful lip-lick do nothing to continue the oft-held belief that age should be hidden or sex is all a woman has. Perhaps this isn’t O’Connor’s intent, but it becomes awkwardly impossible to separate upon listening to track after track of desire for romantic attraction and attention, and it detracts from O’Connor’s image as a sexually empowered woman.
This aspect is made more antithetical by the lyrics of Your Green Jacket, which is almost entirely about O’Connor pining after a lover and reflecting upon self-worth in the eyes of romantic interests, using the titular green jacket as a sexual object. That flies in the face of O’Connor’s message of self-love and taking care of oneself, and it’s a serious issue that does nothing for the girl power philosophy that is espoused by her activity in women’s rights, sexual health, and social reform. Similarly, The Vishnu Room has issues with self-worth and even cultural appropriation; the numerous references to Vishnu make little contextual sense and appear just thrown in the mix. For an album that is supposed to be a girl-power rocker, there are an awful lot of songs about wanting the attention of partners.
The only saving grace is Take Me To Church, one of the lead album singles. It’s a gorgeous, ebullient anthem that is what I’m Not Bossy could have been in the first place – a wonderful (and literal) “I am” song that established Sinead’s self-reliance and power as a full, beautiful, and amazing woman. In an album that is riddled with holes in its attempt to portray the strong, powerful woman, Take Me To Church provides one of the best messages in pop music since the turn of the millennium.
These lyrical and thematic flaws may be more easily overlooked if this weren’t from an artist who has consistently challenged societal expectancies of women. There are several tracks that drastically needed a rewrite; even if their messages were written with an empowering mindset, they failed to translate. Musically, I’m Not Bossy is pure pop with a wonderful glam mindset, but there was certainly more lyrical attention needed for it to succeed its intended purpose.