One For Keeps

One For Keeps: Sinéad O’Connor – The Lion And The Cobra

Shuhada’ Sadaqat (for the purposes of this piece referred to as Sinéad O’Connor) has died. Reflecting on her life and legacy, Ross Horton discusses her debut album, in honour of her memory 

Sinéad O'Connor - The Lion And The Cobra

Sinéad O’Connor – The Lion And The Cobra

Amidst the vast ocean of musical history, there emerges a singular Irish beacon of brilliance: The Lion And The Cobra – the striking debut album by the enigmatic, effervescent Sinéad O’Connor. With its release in 1987, this album roared with such raw power that it etched an indelible mark on the hearts of generations to come (including my own, and no doubt that of my daughters, who are just a bit too young to fully immerse themselves in anything other than nursery rhymes or Cocomelon).

Like a fierce whirlwind sweeping through the musical landscape, Sinéad O’Connor’s debut album captivated listeners with its emotional intensity and lyrical depth. It’s still vastly underappreciated, especially considering that it’s one of the very best debut albums of all time, and a true masterpiece.

To truly appreciate the significance of The Lion And The Cobra, you’ve got to try to unpick the artist’s knotty backstory, but her life since then is a story to be told by someone else, on another day. 

Sinéad O’Connor’s journey to her first record was not an easy one. Born in Dublin in 1966 (only a year before my own mother), she faced a turbulent childhood marked by familial discord and financial struggles – suffering shared by children all over the world. But it was during these tumultuous times that Sinéad found solace and expression in music, and her undeniable talent and hauntingly beautiful voice soon garnered attention, leading her to the creation of her debut album.

As the album opens with the track Jackie, Sinéad’s voice immediately conjures a world of pure imagination. With a storm-clad voice – a child of both Kate Bush and Bob Dylan – she unveils her innermost struggles and triumphs like a lone lighthouse guiding ships through treacherous waters. The lyrics, akin to a painter’s brushstrokes, vividly depict themes that would mark the rest of her life: love, loss and the agony of mourning.

In Mandinka, Sinéad’s voice is a fierce wind of change, urging for freedom and individuality. The song’s lyrics, sharp as a double-edged sword, pierce through conformity, daring listeners to be themselves, to the fullest. It was this boldness and authenticity that set her apart from the conventional music scene, making her a true musical maverick – for better, for worse, forever.

One notable moment on the album is the track Never Get Old, where Sinéad conjures a spoken word passage by her compatriot Enya. The combined effect of having both of their voices in one place creates a hauntingly beautiful duet of sorts, that resonates with the listener long after the music fades. Enya’s godly presence adds another layer of depth and emotion to the already powerful song, making it an unforgettable highlight on the album.

As The Lion And The Cobra continues, the album delves deeper into the complexities of human emotions and relationships. In Just Like U Said It Would B, Sinéad’s voice wraps around the heart like a comforting balm, unravelling the intricacies of love and human connection. The tender lyrics are devastating. Then in Troy, where her voice crashes like waves upon a shore of lost dreams, the lyrics directly confront pain and resilience, turning them into symbols of courage and fortitude. It is in this track that Sinéad’s vocal prowess reaches its truest peak, and I’m not ashamed to say that it can make a grown man cry (in the right environment). I’ve always been reminded of Siouxsie And The Banshees with Troy, and I think that’s due to sheer suffocating Gothic melodrama of the whole thing. 

Beyond these spellbinding tracks lie more treasures. I Want Your (Hands On Me) pulsates with sex and desire and rebellion: like an Irish, female Yin to the INXS swordsman Michael Hutchence’s Australian male Yang. Drink Before The War delivers Sinéad’s voice as a siren song and a disgusted sneer. And Just Call Me Joe casts her voice as a haunting lament against a muscular post-punk sonic backing.

The Lion And The Cobra remains an album that defies categorisation and stands as a timeless testament to Sinéad O’Connor’s life. Even in death, Sinéad’s mighty roar continues to reverberate, reminding us that true artistry has the power to heal, transform, and leave an everlasting legacy. The Lion And The Cobra will forever remain an immortal work of artistic brilliance, beckoning listeners to immerse themselves in the raw emotions it evokes and honouring the remarkable talent and unyielding spirit of Sinéad O’Connor, a true musical icon.

It’s one of my favourite albums of all time.

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More on Sinéad O’Connor
One For Keeps: Sinéad O’Connor – The Lion And The Cobra
Sinéad O’Connor – I’m Not Bossy, I’m The Boss
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Sinéad O’Connor – How About I Be Me (And You Be You)?
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