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Welcome to 2008, the year Gigi hits middle age. In honor of that milestone, let’s begin our year-long look back at the music of a lost generation with a loving tribute to the high priestess of Irish rock, Sinead O’Connor.
I know what you’re thinking: Sinead doesn’t need to be “x-cavated” – hell, not only is she famous, she’s still making music! I hear ya barkin’, dawg. I acknowledge that Ms. O’Connor’s place in music history is secure, for, if nothing else, recording a song written by Prince and crying prettily in the video. But let’s dig deeper. Before she recorded a reggae album…before she rapped about the potato blight…even before she tore up that photo of John Paul II on SNL. Let’s dig out the Sinead who appeared on the Grammy show with a target painted on the side of her bald pate. Let’s talk about THE LION AND THE COBRA (1987).
I’m not going to deny the power of the record that made Sinead a staple on MTV: the vocals and arrangements on I DO NOT WANT WHAT I HAVEN’T GOT deservedly broadened her U.S. fan base, from high school and college kids on the coasts to high school and college kids in middle America as well. But LION/COBRA is an album that fits into no category, at least none that existed at the time it was made. It’s a full-on woman’s album, seething with rage at romantic betrayal, dripping with sweaty desire. The range of the material is exemplified by the one-two punch of the first half of the second side (most of us, no doubt, bought it on cassette): the multi-layered literary references of “Troy” are immediately followed by the only semi-coherent moanings of “I Want Your Hands On Me” (sample lyric: “I want you – gimme yes – ah!”). Just as suddenly, Sinead’s adolescent voice (she was only 21 when the record was released) can transform from a soft croon to a tortured howl, raising caterwauling to undreamed-of heights.
THE LION AND THE COBRA taught me some important lessons: first, that it was possible to yearn and pine for someone and simultaneously want to kick his ass; second, that Ireland is an angry place; third, that even women without hair can be sexy as hell; fourth, smart people are pretty damn dumb when it comes to love and war. Probably there were other things too. But I thank Sinead most for making that record at a time when I needed to know that I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t stop picking at her emotional scabs.