Out There

Sinead O'Connor
Faith and Courage
(Atlantic Records)

It's little surprise that Sinead O'Connor would come out in the new issue of Curve magazine (dunno, never heard of it): She's been little thought of since the release of I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got a decade ago, except as a papal punch line. Her name appeared in print only when she slipped in public, landing ass-first on the hard concrete; if only she had paid more attention to her art and less to her ability to make a scene and spectacle of herself. Am I Not Your Girl? hinted at a woman coasting and worse; her version of "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" was so self-pitying, it's astonishing she could read the lyrics through all those poor-poor-me tears. Two years later, she turned the studio into a soapbox on Universal Mother, proselytizing to the converts who wanted only to hear her sing one more damned time. So the timing of her announcement couldn't be better: Sinead comes out of the closet, bringing with her the album she should (could?) have made a long, long time ago.

It may be no easier to discern the private person and public persona on Faith and Courage, but it makes no difference anymore: Given enough time, disdain turns to compassion. Faith and Courage is a confessional, but it offers no apologies: "I have a universe inside me," she begins, whispering over producer Adrian Sherwood's techno echoes. "You come to me and I will guide you...So believe you're not free / If you don't know me." The last decade has only strengthened her resolve; she's no victim, no matter the persecution. The opening song might be titled "The Healing Room," but she has nothing to repair. Her skin is made of steel, and her music is crafted from silk. "The Healing Room" and so much of the disc shimmer like the best R&B, gliding to the finish on layers of smooth funk and subtle, contained fury.

Like I Do Not Want..., Faith and Courage blends and borrows from funk and Irish folk and hip-hop to create a sublime mélange; she's even hired a handful of producers and mixers, among them Andy Wallace, Wyclef Jean, and Brian Eno, who stretch O'Connor until she breaks and spills all over the floor. Strings and programmed drums are served up in equal measure on the exhilarating "No Man's Woman" and "Jealous," among two highlights on a record best described as passionate and genuine. And O'Connor is at turns sexy ("And I feel real cool and I feel real good / Got my hair shaved off and my black thigh boots") and spiritual ("I'm circling around the Sun / Hoping for a chance to see / You above everyone"), meaning she's finally turned into Prince after all--which is just as well, since he ain't interested in the job anymore. Nice to see she's interested at all.

Robert Wilonsky

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky