Tuesday, December 16, 2008

39 Greatest Albums: Sinead O'Connor - 'The Lion And The Cobra'

Madonna. Cyndi Lauper. Laura Branigan. Cher. Debbie Gibson. Tiffany. Whitney Houston. Janet Jackson. Jody Watley. Suzanne Vega. Gloria Estefan. Sheena Easton.

These are some of the female names I saw while quickly glancing at '1987 Music' on Wikipedia.

In November of that year, a 20 year old Irish chick with a shaved head released the album she'd recorded while pregnant. I know her following album was the one that sent her into the stratosphere, but when you consider the context in which it was released, this album grows in its importance every year. It is also still ahead of its time sonically.

There were almost no female auteurs/pop stars at this point. They were either packaged dance music stars or singer/songwriter hippie chicks. Sinead was like the appearance of The Sex Pistols to male rock music. She changed the rules and left so-called 'edgy' females in the dust. I mean, Melissa Etheridge? Compared to Sinead she seems like a boozy karaoke artist.

Just like punk music exposed the myth of hard rock by being infinitely harder, Sinead showed that whatever was passing for female aggression in those days was merely a come-on dressed up to look like rebellion. Sinead was not trying to turn you on if you were a man. She'd had it with men in general and she was only 20. This of course turned her into a giant sex symbol to both men and women.

The song I'm going to single out is the epic 'Troy'. It showcases the genius O'Connor has in blowing the personal up into some unholy conflagration of myth and history. She describes a passionate youthful love affair in the specific context of modern day Dublin. Long grass, summer rain.

But something has gone wrong and the affair has ended. When she sings, 'There is no other Troy/For you to burn' the song stops being simply about these two specific people, or about O'Conner at all. Who can sustain a love affair in the modern age? How can such passion be free to live in the context of a grimy urban shattered landscape of divorce and religious oppression? How is it that the carnal embrace of two young lovers no longer means anything pure or wonderful? How do those young lovers view themselves under the weight of a world that has turned its back so firmly on purity or wonder?

These are the questions that she leaves me with. Without her there is no Alanis, there is no KT Tunstall, there is no Pink, there is no Lily Allen, maybe not even a Courtney Love. She single-handedly dragged female rock music into the modern age. And she did it with 9 songs in 1987.

1. Jackie
2. Mandinka
3. Jerusalem
4. Just Like U Said It Would B
5. Never Get Old
6. Troy
7. I Want Your (Hands on Me)
8. Drink Before the War
9. Just Call Me Joe

She's crazy. But it just might be a lunatic we're looking for.