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Sinead O'Connor in Victorian gown
On the ballads, her voice has taken on a Marianne Faithfull world weariness that suits the dark subject matter well. The junkie confession of “Reason With Me,” the best of her recent songs, is mesmerizing as Sinéad evokes the sadness of a lost life, “I’m the one who sits in the back room / I’m the one who doesn’t know how to have fun.” But Sinéad’s songs, even at their darkest, always have a soft light of hope at their core: “I don’t want to waste the life God gave me / And I don’t think that it’s too late to save me” she sings, and it’s impossible not to believe her.
For old school fans like me, Sinéad’s performance of “Jackie” - the first track off her debut album - is a special chill-down-the-spine moment as her voice soars into the ether. It is in these louder moments that Sinéad’s voice continues to amaze. However, a strange whispery a capella version of “I Am Stretched On Your Grave” (from her 1990 breakout LP, I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got) falls flat as she apologizes at one point for forcing the crowd to endure another “boring verse”. And her biggest hit, “Nothing Compares 2 U,” is given a requisite, unenthusiastic performance (although the crowd greeted the song with immense enthusiasm despite the rather lackluster performance).
Sometimes the brunt honesty of Sinéad’s diary-like confessional songs become almost uncomfortable to behold, as during “I Had a Baby” where the pain she feels, as a mother whose baby was fathered by a married man, is not for herself, but for her child who must suffer for her bad decisions. “I don’t know why he should suffer instead of me / Over sh** that’s because of me,” rages Sinéad. As she sings, “I was always crazy” while nervously shaking her head from side to side, I can’t doubt her for a second, and as someone who also struggles with mental illness, a wave of sadness washes over me. There’s something so powerful about watching an artist confront their demons onstage, and the vision of Sinéad battling her troubled mind will endure.
Alas, Sinéad lives to confound us all, and why should we be surprised? The “dyke” who marries men, the priest who rips up pictures of the Pope, the feminist who tattoos a man’s initials on her face - throughout her career Sinéad has been nothing if not unpredictable. As the confusion of the empty ending eases, I hear the voices around me processing what they just experienced. “That was amazing!” “Oh, her voice gives me chills.” And isn’t that what it’s all about, ultimately? That chill-inducing voice. And as I depart the venue, I think to myself with a smile, “I can cross another ‘must-see’ artist off the list”.
Sinead O'Connor at City Winery, Chicago (11/05/13)