The latest offering from Sinead is a very mixed game of two halves.
Chris White 2007
Remarkably, it’s now 20 years since the snarling, glabrous-pated yet strangely beautiful Sinead O’Connor first emerged with her passionate and eclectic debut album The Lion And The Cobra before going on to achieve worldwide fame three years later thanks to an unforgettable version of Prince’s '‘Nothing Compares 2 U'’.
After this early career peak, O’Connor has attracted more headlines for her frequently provocative and occasionally bizarre opinions than for her music, which has remained frustratingly inconsistent for a decade or more.
Following typically wilful departures into traditional Gaelic and reggae covers on her last two collections, the singer is back with a double album of mostly original compositions, featuring acoustic and full band versions of the same core songs. After famously tearing up a photograph of Pope John Paul II live on U.S. television, it now seems Sinead has got religion in a big way, and a theme of spiritual contentment is palpable throughout Theology.
Described by the artist as 'an attempt to create a place of peace in a time of war' in response to the tragedy of 9/11 and its subsequent impact upon the world, it’s clear that O’Connor is still keen to tackle big subjects, albeit in a far less confrontational manner than of old. The hair has been allowed to grow to a neat French crop, the scowling has faded but what’s worrying is the way this new-found maturity has been allowed to dull the edge of her music.
Of the two discs, the Dublin Sessions, featuring O’Connor alone with just a guitar accompaniment, fares better. Some strong new songs, notably the warm, tender lullaby ‘'Dark I Am Yet Lovely'’ and the defiant yet vulnerable ‘'If You Had A Vineyard'’, work well in a stripped down setting, allowing O’Connor to show off her achingly lovely voice to best effect.
London Sessions, with a full band added to flesh out the original versions, is a major disappointment - mannered, dated and over-produced soft rock which at times lurches perilously close to sounding like a Celtic-tinged Dido. Even the better tracks from Dublin Sessions succumb to the ubiquitous blandness that O’Connor has allowed to dominate the record, while some limp covers, including '‘I Don’t Know How To Love Him’' from the musical Jesus Christ Superstar and an inexplicable reworking of Boney M’s '‘Rivers Of Babylon’' have a similar impact to walking past a pub hosting an adequate karaoke night.
O’Connor is a singer with the range and emotional intensity to rank with the best, but Theology is stark evidence that she continues to lack the direction and quality control required to rediscover the critical and commercial success of her early work.