'Maybe the most accomplished album of her career' - Ed Power reviews Sinead O'Connor's 'I'm Not Bossy, I'm the Boss'
I'm Not Bossy, I'm The Boss, Nettwerk
Sinead O'Connor knew exactly what she was doing when, by way of ginning up publicity for her new album, she posed in a leather dominatrix dress and black wig.
The image of the singer, glammed up and grinning slyly, flashed around the world – just as she had planned. Not only did the stunt alert audiences to the fact that, behind the angst and eccentric Tweets, O'Connor is highly self-aware, with a sharp sense of humour – it also spoke to her confidence in I'm Not Bossy, a collection she justifiably feels may be the most accomplished of her career.
Recorded in the shadow of 'Miley-Gate', it is remarkable how carefree, even breezy, O'Connor sounds – if her online spat with Cyrus bruised her confidence, she conceals the fact impressively.
The LP furthermore suggests that, 24 years after Nothing Compares 2 U, O'Connor may finally have ceased to be dazzled by her own voice – rather than relying on those remarkable pipes to paper over lacklustre material (an issue across great swathes of her catalogue), she works hard at her songwriting, with results that are frequently revelatory.
She's recently taken to hanging about with tortured troubadour John Grant, whose back story surely puts even O'Connor's woes in perspective (he grew up hating himself for being gay, sank into drug addiction and in 2012 was confirmed HIV positive).
You can hear his influence on the brashly keening Take Me To The Church, a gorgeous dirge that showcases O'Connor's distinctive stripe of shin-kicking feminism yet somehow comes across as playful and deprecating (indeed, the usual preachiness is absent throughout).
Speaking about the record to journalists, O'Connor cautioned against reading too deeply into her lyrics. Obviously there is a temptation to interpret the brooding Where Have You Been? and the roiling Harbour in the context of her differences with Miley.
However, she has insisted the characters and situations are entirely fictional – fed up scraping the dregs of her soul for inspiration, with the new album she has, she says, embraced the role of storyteller.
If that is the case, then she spins a good yarn. Her delivery, at once powerful and subtle, has never been more affecting than on gauzy ballad The Vishnu Room while her duet with Seun Kuti on James Brown balances quiet strength and swoonful understatement.
Whether I'm Not Bossy will arrest a decade of commercial decline and give O'Connor the hit she could badly do with is uncertain – sadly, you suspect a lot of people will chuckle at the saucy cover shot, then move on. The loss would be theirs.
'I'm Not Bossy, I'm the Boss' releases today.