Review: Sinead O'Connor at the National Concert Hall
Sinead O'Connor could be forgiven a wry chuckle as she steps before a sold-out National Concert Hall. In the doldrums since the '90s, her career has undergone a rejuvenation thanks to the PVC skirt and black wig she cheekily sports on the cover of her new album. That I'm Not Bossy I'm The Boss is among the strongest LPs she has released has no doubt helped - but without those knowingly sizzling snaps would anyone have taken the time to notice?
What this says about the media and the music-consuming masses is best not contemplated very deeply (naturally O'Connor's Twitter smackdown with Miley Cyrus has boosted her prominence too). However, it also attests to O'Connor's tremendous canniness. Often painted as self -destructive and wayward, in fact O'Connor is a survivor who, at 48, remains in the public eye at a point when female performers are generally compelled to slink into irrelevance (we permit our male rock stars grow old and crotchety, an option largely denied women in the industry).
Dressed simply in billowy top and loose leather trousers - those anticipating PVC and hair extensions must be devastated - she opens with the muscular, lamenting Queen of Denmark, by the American singer John Grant (with whom she has struck up intense friendship ). As you expect, the voice shimmers and soars - what surprises is the protean rumble of her backing band, a hard-rocking crew whose bustle gives O'Connor something to push against as she wails and whispers.
There's a widely held belief O'Connor's songwriting is not a patch on her remarkable singing. But, though she has put out her share of underwhelming material, it would be wrong to dismiss her as a pretty quaver in search of a purpose. Swaying almost imperceptibly, she delivers a sweet, free-floating 4th and Vine and has fun with Take Me To The Church - the lead single from I'm Not Bossy… is close to feral in its jauntiness.
O'Connor seems at peace with the complicated shadows cast by her 1990 cover of Prince's Nothing Compares 2 U. While she didn't pen the tune, as Prince has acknowledged she has made it so utterly her own it doesn't really matter. Less successful are the granola-flavoured earth motherisms of I Had A Baby and No Man's Woman, confessional dirges that conflate soul-baring over-sharing.
Still, the queasiness is fleeting. Shaking her head and twisting her frame, she croons to the heavens on the carefree Emperor's New Clothes. From early in her career, the song splices vulnerability and steeliness - all these decades on, they are the qualities that continue to define O'Connor and which ensure she is the enigma that keeps on giving.