Her last album Faith and couragewas born from this search of rest. "It's a soul record, a spiritual and religious album", told Sinéad, that recently became Mother Bernadette Mary and was ordained as a priest in the dissident catholic church Latin Tridentine (not recognized from the Vatican). "The main musical idea is to conciliate the Irish tradition with reggae. But 'Faith and courage' is also a pop album, because after many 'serious moments' I wanted to enjoy myself ". Yes, because Sinéad O'Connor has always lived of dramas. From her childhood, marked by violence and lonelyness, to the recent times, which culminated in the kidnapping of her daughter Roisin and in the legal battle about the custody with her baby's father, the "Irish Times" journalist John Waters. She has been living dangerously for years, and after all that desperation she was on the edge of suicide for two times.
"No man's woman"
"I tried to carry on a pain that was as great as the Empire State Building", she told. "I was full of sweetness, but I was also full of anger, and if I didn't throw it out of me it could drive me crazy. Today I feel stronger and I have an immense faith in God". So the former skinhead, who bursted out with atrocious howls and punk invectives, gradually transformed herself in a preacher. Not a quiet preacher, indeed.
The ceremony in which she was ordained as Mother Bernadette Mary took place in a Lourdes hotel and immediately was on the tabloids covers worldwide. Then she apologized to John Paul II for the "tear" of 1992 but she added that "in that moment it was the right thing to do in order to protest against the interference of the Church in the Ireland's life". Her last interviews were obsessively focused on her sexuality. With conflicting outcomes. "I went to bed with women, but I'm more attracted to men", she declared to the magazine "Hot Press". "I'm a lesbian, even if I haven't been comfortable with that fact until recently", she revealed some days after to the magazine "Curve".
The solution maybe is in the title of her last album's single: "No man' s woman ", written with Scott Cutler and Anne Preven, the authors of Natalie Imbruglia's "Thorn". In the videoclip, the "No Man's Woman" is a bride who desperately flees before saying "I will" and is saved by some strange "rasta". But it isn't a "j'accuse" against the male sex: "It's only the thought of a moment; the album, on the contrary, is a homage to men and is produced by men". Many, in fact, are the sounds wizards who collaborated with Sinéad: Brian Eno, above all, then Dave Stewart (Eurythmics), Wycleaf Jean and Adrian Sherwood. The result can be found in the richness of the arrangements and in some catchy tunes, like "Jealous" and "The lamb's book of life".
Nevertheless, you feel that Sinéad O'Connor is slowly softening her debut's sacred fire. So she's far from the acrobatic vocalizes, between black song, celtic folk and Gregorian chant, of her first album The Lion and the Cobra: a thrilling record, in which Sinéad, almost 20, could even sing an epic-symphonic drama such as "Troy". And she's far from the gloomy melancholy of "Nothing compares 2 U", the Prince's song that O'Connor covered in a romantic way in I do not want what I haven' t got, the album of the worldwide success.
The betrayed daughter
O'Connor songs, softened the harshness of her dissonant high tones, have been transformed in refined whispers. But her voice is always able to take out an emotion, a shake of life, in every song. Maybe it's because her confessions are so realistic that they can touch even the most cynical of their listeners.
Just listen to the gloomy "John I love you" (in Universal Mother), dedicated to the former-husband John Reynolds, in which the art of love coincides with a return to the childhood innocence, or to "This is to mother you", sorrowful lullaby for her mother Marie (in the Ep Gospel Oak): "All the pain that you have known/ All the violence in your soul/ All the 'wrong' things you have done/ I will take from you when I come". Words of a betrayed daughter. Sinéad, in fact, had a traumatic childhood: she suffered violence from her mother (who died in a car crash in 1985), endured the separation of the parents when she was 8, was expelled from a catholic school for insubordination and was also arrested for theft. Maybe that's the reason why she lavished all her emotions on her two children: Roisin (4 years) and Jake (13 years, born from the former wedding with Reynolds), so that she declared: "On the death's bed, I'll only hope I was a good enough mother".
Sullen girl, "insufferable" according to her own record company managers, O'Connor had a row with almost everyone, also with her fellows country-men U2, that she accused "to manage the dublinese scene with Mafia-like methods". Living against all has always been her philosophy. And her bald head, in grinding contrast with her tender eyes and the delicacy of her features, has been the most exact icon.
It's told that shaving her head was her first protest act against the interferences of the record industry, because the musical one - she says - "is the most offensive business you could possibly imagine having to be involved with". She boycotted the Grammy Awards in 1991 and she declared that Mtv should be abolished, because "Tv has killed art and poetry". She refused to perform at a New Jersey show if the American anthem was played and this also raised the ire of Frank Sinatra. She can cancel a concert at the very last time for a banal technical detail, as she did in Rome some years ago. And she can exasperate her own collaborators, as referred people who worked with her for the soundtrack of the film In the name of the father.
Ireland, war and peace
But the sullen Sinéad can also be generous. She donated her 750,000 dollars home in the Hollywood Hills to the Red Cross. She participated to several humanitarian appointments and she destined the profits of the Ep My special child to the kurd people. But the great public didn't pardon her gesture during the "Saturday Night Live" (she was boeed off the stage at a Bob Dylan's tribute in New York, and she was victim of a boycott's campaign ended with the destruction of 200 copies of her records) and her sympathies for Ira. "Ireland is like a lost mother. We have lost our language and our history because of the English rules. And we go on feeling this pain every day", she explained talking about "Famine", the song in which she denounced the British oppression behind the tragedy of the 1847 famine, asking for the Irish re-unification and the end of the violence in Northern Ireland.
People who love music and who aren't influenced by the sympathies cannot recognize the deep infuence the dublinese songwriter has had on an entire generation of singers, till her Irish fellow Dolores O' Riordan of the Cranberries. You can only regret that one of the most versatile and expressive vocalist of the rock history has been sacrificed to compositions that were often under her singer's talent or to covers like the ones of Sean-Nos Nua (2002).