When I was 19 I went through an Irish music phase — a spin-off from my U2 obsession — and bought Sinead O'Connor's debut album. I knew nothing about Sinead, other than she was a 20-year-old Irish woman with a shaved head. I'd read an article about her in Rolling Stone and thought she sounded interesting. But I hadn't heard any of her music and it was a gamble to even buy the CD. (Imagine that happening today; there's nothing you can't find — to see, hear or read about — on the internet.)
I still remember the shock of listening to The Lion and The Cobra for the first time. There was so much ANGER in it. But Sinead's unique voice was so arresting — smooth and gentle one minute, harsh and visceral the next — that it was hard not to be mesmirised by it.
To this day, that album remains one of my all-time favourites and it would certainly make my Desert Island Discs selection. The standout tracks, Troy and Jackie, still have the power to make the hair stand up on the back of my neck.
Fast forward more than 20 years, and Sinead's just released her ninth studio album, How About I Be Me (And You Be You)?. Last night we saw her perform tracks from it at Queen Elizabeth Hall on London's Southbank as part of the Women of the World Festival.
It was a brilliant show — her voice is just stunning and full of contradictions: emotional and frail; powerful and rousing; ethereal and poignant. When she goes into full throttle it is hard to believe that the sound is coming from such a tiny woman.
And her set list was wonderful: lots of old songs — including the aforementioned Jackie, The Emperor's New Clothes and the song that made her a household name, Nothing Compares to U — as well as tunes from the new album.
While it's clear she's gone through periods of craziness and had many a WTF moment over the years, it is the music and the songwriting and the voice that she should be judged by. On that score, no one comes close.
- Her latest single, The Wolf is Getting Married (below)