has "Faith and Courage"
Atlantic set speaks of prayer and power of human voice
by Melinda Newman
Los Angeles - Sinead O'Connor has found that the hardest part of creating music is often getting out of the songs' way.
"The album does itself," she says. "If you listen to what is inside you and get out of the way, it takes you on the journey. On this album, I've recorded myself going on the journey."
And what a trip it is. Her new project, "Faith and Courage," signals a number of transitions for O'Connor. It is her first full-length album of new material since 1994's "Universal Mother" (1997's Gospel Oak was an EP), and it's her debut for Atlantic Records. The title comes out June 13 in the U.S. and will be released in other territories the same or the following week.
Admittedly wary of international conglomerates, O'Connor says that she's happy with her 1998 move to Atlantic from Ensign/EMI. "You do have to bend over," she says of inking with a major label. "I know there are labels that sign artists to control their careers rather than promote them, but I feel I'm with the best ship that's sailing. They're 10,000% in support of me."
The album - whose producers include Dave Stewart, Wyclef Jean, Brian Eno, and Kevin "She'kspere" Briggs - blends traditional Irish instrumentation, such as the penny whistle, with modern programming and beats to surprisingly strong effect.
"By being Irish, the culture I grew up in provides me with a tradition in music. That's the core of me as an Irish person," says O'Connor. "But also the age I was born in provides me with the use of technology."
Much of the album's tone revolves around a key line from the track "The Lamb's Book of Life," in which O'Connor states, "Everything in this world would be OK/If people just believed enough in God to pray."
"All I've ever wanted to do with my music and my life is show people in my tiny way that there is something they can tap into which can help them, and that is prayer," says O'Connor.
However, O'Connor is well aware of the chasm that often exists between rock and religion and that few acts - among them U2 - have been able to bridge that gap without being relegated to the contemporary Christian bins.
"I think that's because of the terrible job many of the religions have done in representing God," she says.
"God is pure love, and God doesn't judge us the way we judge ourselves. I think it's thought of being uncool because it has been uncool. What I've always tried to do is get people to use their voices - they don't have to pray in a traditional way - and just realize the universe does respond to the human voice."
'This album is spiritual and powerful and emotional and personally revealing," says Atlantic Records executive V.P. / Office of the Chairman Craig Kallman, who helped bring O'Connor to the label. "She's singularly unique in that she's able to pull off an album that's very challenging musically and is incredibly diverse with Celtic, reggae, and rock influences."
Working with such a broad array of producers helped free O'Connor to explore different directions, says the singer, who is managed by Steve Fargnoli. "I guess I felt like I've been playing it safe [with my previous records]," she says. "I've been holding up in [producer] John Reynolds' bedroom making records, and this time I wanted to step out into the big, bad world, and it was brilliant. The water was fine."
The bouncy first single, "No Man's Woman," co-written by O'Connor and Anne Preven and Scott Cutler (the pair who wrote Natalie Imbruglia's "Torn"), has been serviced to hot AC, modern AC, triple-A, Alternative, and Pop radio. While off to a strong start at many stations, the song has stuck some listeners as male-bashing.
"The single is fairly polarizing,"
says Eric Keil, V.P. of South Plainfield, NJ-based retailer Compact Disc
World. "It takes a very
strong pro-woman stance, [which] may tend to alienate a significant amount of radio listeners." However, he adds, "Musically, the single is some of the more interesting music she's made in a while."
Kallman believes the single is strong and says, "I don't see it as an anti-male at all. Knowing Sinead as I've gotten to know her, I know she loves men. It's a liberating song about individualism." He adds, "There was some concern when we made it the first single, but as the representatives of Sinead's art, we knew it wouldn't be right to dumb down her lyrics or dumb down our efforts on our launch."
Gary Cee, PD for WLIR Long Island, N.Y., agrees with Kallman's assessment. "It's an anthem for women who want to be liberated," he says. "This is a song that can speak to so many. It's one of my favorite songs of the year. It's a top five song for us."
O'Connor, who lives in Dublin, will spend much of June in the US promoting the album. Already scheduled are performances on "The Rosie O'Donnell Show" and "The Late Night with David Letterman."
"We're sniping about 10 major cities in America with the album cover," adds Ron Shapiro, Atlantic Records executive VP/GM. "We're going to aggressively buy retail at every major chain." He adds that the single's strong radio start plus VH1's decision to add the clip have helped to create excitement about the project as staffers talk to retailers."
"We've discussed with Atlantic putting the album in listening stations and doing a special promotion the first three weeks out of the box," says Andy Sibray, rock/buyer for Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Borders Book & Music. "We have high expectations for it."
O'Connor says she has no plans for an extended tour. "I have two kids; I don't want to leave them. My daughter's only 4, and she really needs my attention." However, Kallman says that he expects her to do selected dates.
Faith and Courage is released June 13 on Atlantic.
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