It comes as something of a relief to be discussing Sinéad O’Connor on musical terms rather than personal, when considering the emotional upheaval she’s suffered of late – not least a 16-day marriage and a Twitter meltdown. Yet it proves impossible to listen to How About I Be Me (And You Be You)? without thinking of those things – and O’Connor seems keen not to let us forget either.
There are two sides – and possibly a third – to O’Connor the vocalist. One is the completely authoritative woman, in control, who on the John Grant cover Queen Of Denmark barks “why don’t you bore the shit out of somebody else!” to her significant ex. The other is soft and gentle, wears a pink dress and wants to look feminine as she prepares for marriage in the assured opening salvo 4th And Vine. We often glimpse both sides of her personality within the same song, moods changing with the chords.
As a vocalist, she continues to command attention. As Reason With Me says how “I really wanna mend my ways, I’m gonna call that number one of these days”, it’s impossible not to sympathise with the plight of the junkie she portrays. Herself in a previous life, perhaps? Difficult to say, but the song has so much direct input the parallel is difficult to refute.
Many of O’Connor’s most moving moments on this album are delivered in this quiet yet open way, sometimes in barely audible whispers that have the listener unconsciously leaning closer to hear what she has to say. The final song, V.I.P., is akin to a Catholic intonation, and ends with a whispered doxology giving way to laughter, as if the singer is locked in a confession box with just a microphone for company.
There is barely concealed anger, as Take Off Your Shoes bridles with menace at the wrongs of the Vatican, particularly its stance over sexual abuse. Nor is humour far from O’Connor’s surface, in I Had A Baby, for “he looks just like me – a bald headed baby, he’s been the making of me!”
Not all the album is heavy emotional going, mind. Old Lady is a more comfortable dose of FM rock, while The Wolf Is Getting Married celebrates the simple pleasure of two people hitting it off. “Your joy gives me joy, your hope gives me hope”, she gushes.
That song speaks of the resolve at the centre of this album, for it represents triumph in the face of considerable adversity, an illustration of music’s power to transcend the shit that life can throw at you. In O’Connor’s case, she has either skilfully deflected it with her riot shield, or absorbed it for lyrical inspiration. The result is a cleansing experience, one from which you cannot fail to be left unmoved. O’Connor herself may not yet have reached total stability, but the completion of this album must have helped her take a massive step in that direction.