NOTHING COMPARES 2 HER
By Mark Edwards
Sinead O'Connor has put notoriety
behind her, but she
isn't making any apologies, says Mark Edwards
When is an apology not an apology?
Try this for size.
It's from The Lamb's Book of Life, a song on Sinead
O'Connor's new album, Faith and Courage. "I know
that I have done many things/To give you reason not to
listen to me/ Especially as I have been so angry/ But
if you knew me, maybe you would understand me/
Words can't express how sorry I am/ If I ever caused
any pain to anybody/I just hope that you can show
compassion/ And love me ... "
So then, is this an apology for all
the behaviour that
earned O'Connor, 33, the soubriquet "Mad Bad Sinead" -
the woman who ripped up a picture of the Pope on
American network television, that kind of thing?
Sinead herself is having none of
that. "Certainly not,
it's not an apology at all," she says, as we sip tea
in a London hotel, while O'Connor gives half her
attention to me and half to her mobile phone ("I know
I look as though I'm not listening, but I am," she says,
as she alternately punches keys in search of a text
message or stares at it, willing it to ring.)
"The 'I' in that song isn't me,"
she explains. "It's
Ireland. People would love me to apologise. But I'm
not sorry. I'm very proud of what I did." And then at
least I get an apology for the lack of an apology. "I'm
dreadfully sorry to disappoint you," she adds, with a grin.
No regrets then? "No, no regrets.
Except ... well ...
I regret that I didn't dress more sexy."
This afternoon, O'Connor is in the
grey suits. Only the trademark crop prevents her from
looking more like a successful businesswoman than one
of the few genuine rebels left in rock music. "I
always write in the first person, even if the song
isn't about me," she continues. "It can be someone
else, or it can be what I imagine God would say, or it
can be Ireland talking. There is a tradition among Irish
poets or songwriters of referring to Ireland as a woman,
or a lost heifer,because it used to be illegal to write
songs about Ireland."
O'Connor notices the well-practised
look of English
historical guilt forming on my face. "Ah, don't feel bad,"
she says. "The English did worse to their own people than
they did to anyone else."
Some would suggest that O'Connor
has done a lot of
harm to herself over the years. Within months of her
hit version of Prince's Nothing Compares 2 U propelling
her to worldwide stardom, the anger that suffused her music
bubbled over into her on- and offstage life. How apt that
she ripped up the Pope on Saturday Night Live, a show where
the cast were dubbed "the Not Ready for Primetime Players".
O'Connor herself wasn't ready for prime time, muttered
industry cynics, as they watched her record sales dip.
O'Connor disagrees with this scenario.
She was never
going to be able to match the "freakish" success of
that one single, and besides, she still sells a couple
of million copies of each album she puts out. The truth,
however, is that she has never made a record as good
as I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got, the album that
spawned Nothing Compares 2 U. Until now, that is.
Faith and Courage is as good; maybe
Jealous, which is released tomorrow, is the best
single she's released since that Prince song; a mellow
ballad - already playlisted on Radio 2 - with a beauty that
belies its slightly shocking origins. "It is about a
mutual friend of mine and (co-writer and producer)
Dave Stewart's," O'Connor explains. "A man who after about
five years of being divorced decided to get married
again, and his ex-wife came round and beat him up so
badly that she put him into hospital."
Stewart is just one of several A-list
worked on Faith and Courage, alongside Wyclef Jean,
Adrian Sherwood and Brian Eno. Between them, they
provide a backdrop for O'Connor's first successful
attempt to reconcile the two madly conflicting sides
of her personality; the compassionate, caring Sinead
of recent releases, and the angrier Sinead of her early
Except, I probably shouldn't have
used the term
"angrier". "I don't think there is anger on this
record at all," says O'Connor (clearly rather angry).
"There is determination and self-belief. Testosterone.
Balls. I don't believe in angry for the sake of being angry.
There is a lot of fake anger around in the music business.
What was powerful about my first record was that it was
"I never set out to change the world,
I set out to
change myself and Ireland, and I think I have been
pretty successful in both departments. I was trying to
change myself and the obstacles and difficulties that I
had to carry as a result of growing up as I did. And that
involved expressing some things that were difficult to
hear. The subject of child abuse at the time was a hot
potato and was difficult to talk about. Abuse of any kind -
you always saw the victims as shadows, and I was very
interested in breaking down the walls of shame that
surround child abuse.
"I was the living embodiment of what
someone who has been through that kind of stuff and,
understandably, people found it difficult to see or
hear. But one thing I did do was to create conversation in
Ireland where it needed to be created, and that's the
job of artists."
Faith and Courage offers ample evidence
has extinguished a lot of her inner demons, originally
caused by her mother's violence towards her. The
track 'Til I Whisper U Something is O'Connor's riposte
to Stewart's suggestion that she write some sad songs.
"I'm really talking to him in the song, saying I don't
want to write sad songs. It is about a journey into
happiness. I have moved on from wanting to do that
'woe is me' thing. It has been my intention always to
make the journey into joy."
How far have you got, I ask? "I'm
there," she says,
Among the more extreme moments of
this long and
frequently bizarre journey, was O'Connor's surprise
announcement that she had become a priest - Sister
Bernadette Maria - thereby reconciling herself with
the church that she had so openly attacked, albeit in
her own particular way. "I would consider myself a
strange mixture of Rasta, Hindu and Catholic," she says.
The reason she took orders was because
she wants to
care for the terminally ill. "I'm interested in
working around death, helping people into death
without fear and helping the bereaved. I have always been
fascinated with the way the human world looks on death as a
terrible thing, a tragedy, an awful loss. I believe that
only the body goes, the person is still around and is quite
easy to communicate with if you want to."
As if on cue, O'Connor's mobile phone
rings. She picks
it up, but hits the wrong key. "Shit. I've turned it
off." But the mood is broken, and we leave our
investigation of the spirit world for lighter matters.
The song Dancing Lessons, I wonder, is it really about dancing
"It is about my boyfriend," says
O'Connor. "It is
about being in a relationship and how it is very much
like learning to dance. But yes, it's also about
actual dancing lessons. It's something we haven't got
around to yet, going for dancing lessons together, treading
on each other's feet. I'd like to."
Boyfriend? Hang on. Last time O'Connor
was in the
public eye, she was declaring herself both celibate
and a lesbian. Surely several inconsistencies here? "I
haven't been celibate for a long time," she says. "And
I'm not a lesbian. I'm someone who doesn't believe in gay
or straight. I think that if you fall in love with
someone, it doesn't matter if it is a man or woman or alien.
At the moment, it's somebody male."
O'Connor senses my slight professional
at being the one journalist who interviewed Sinead
O'Connor when she was in a conventional relationship.
"He is a very feminine man," she adds, "if that
Enter her "healing room" for enlightenment