Published Feb 27, 2012Has there ever been a more conflicted, tragic, talented musician than the bald child advocate, bipolar-afflicted, anal-sex-loving, Pope-picture-tearing, angel-voiced former-priest Sinéad Marie Bernadette O'Connor? In short, no. And though she's been recording and making music since she was 14 years old, O'Connor's actual artistry has mostly taken a backseat to her highly publicized personal problems. Appropriately enough, her new album is entitled How About I Be Me (And You Be You)? But after the last few months O'Connor has experienced ― a quickie Vegas marriage (her fourth!) already on the rocks mere hours after saying "I do," a suicide attempt, public cries for help on Twitter, and her subsequent hospitalization ― she might like a chance to be somebody else for a while. Love her or loathe her, it's impossible to argue: it's tough work being Sinéad O'Connor.
1966 to 1982
O'Connor is born on December 8, 1966 in Dublin, the third of five children for Sean and Marie O'Connor. Sean and Marie's troubled marriage dissolves when O'Connor is eight years old. Though she's initially sent to live with her father, O'Connor ultimately returns to her mother's home, only to move back in with her father at age 13. In a 1991 interview with Spin, O'Connor will reveal that she and her siblings endured abuse their entire lives at their mother's hands. "I've been beaten with all things with which you can beat a child," she'll tell Spin founder, Bob Guccione Jr. "I didn't get food, I was locked up for days in my room, without food and without clothes. I had to sleep in the garden at night. An entire summer I slept in my home's garden... I was always told that I wasn't all right, that I was a piece of shit, that it was my fault that my parents had separated. That I was filthy, that I was dirty, that I was crazy. I was mostly a piece of shit because I was a girl and because I never did anything right. My whole life I was always terrified. Just the sound of my mother's footsteps on the stairs was enough to let us tremble of fear. We were neglected, we were beaten and we were psychologically and emotionally abused."
O'Connor will offer more more graphic and disturbing details about the abuse in a 2001 interview with The Independent: "It was that kind of psychological destruction. On a regular basis I'd be made to take off my clothes and lie on the floor while she kicked me here [gestures towards genitals] and spit at it. And make me say things like 'I'm nothing,' and ask for mercy. There was a lot of sadism. The violence was sexually abusive."
Living with her mother, O'Connor misses school, never does homework, and finds herself complicit in her mother's theft and fraudulent activities. In an interview with Fred Dove on the BBC's Outlook, O'Connor will recall how her mother used to drive her and her sister around with collection boxes pretending they were for charity. They go into pubs and collect hundreds of pounds, with their mother pocketing the money. Her mother also encourages her to shoplift, which continues until she's caught at 14 and sent to An Grianán Training Centre (one of the infamous Magdalene asylums), an institution in Dublin for girls with behavioural problems, for 18 months. In the Outlook interview, O'Connor calls her time at the asylum traumatic, but also admits "it was the best thing that ever happened to me actually. The nun that ran the place was the person that bought me my first guitar." After a volunteer at the asylum hears O'Connor singing, she recommends the 14-year-old join her brother's band, In Tua Nua. O'Connor records the band's debut single, but is forced out when she's deemed too young to tour.
1983 to 1989
O'Connor's father sends her to an exclusive Quaker boarding school. A teacher sees that the young teen has no interest in traditional education, and encourages her to record a four-song demo, two covers and two originals. She drops out in 1984 after forming a band with Columb Farrelly, which they call Ton Ton Macoute. The reviews praise O'Connor's onstage magnetism and voice, but her time with the band is cut short when her estranged mother dies in a car accident in 1985. In her 1991 interview with Spin, O'Connor will offer details about a conversation she had with her mother about the abuse before she died. "I said 'Why did you hit us?', and she said, 'I've never done anything to you.' She believed that she had done nothing, because it was too shocking for her to deal with it. Now I'm very sure that she was very sad when she had hit us, because my father told me that afterwards she was always completely upset. I think that she ― and my father thinks the same by the way ― was destined to be unhappy. She had to be abused as a child, one way or another. She really couldn't show love. She just couldn't handle it. I love my mother. I've always loved my mother. I've always understood that she didn't mean it that way, even when she hit me. I've never hated her; I've never had a grudge against her. I've always understood that she suffered herself and that she didn't know what she was doing."
In 1985, O'Connor signs with Ensign Records and relocates to London. She lands her first major gig: vocals and co-writing duties on the song "Heroine" with U2's the Edge for the soundtrack to the film, Captive. In 1986, she begins work on her own debut, The Lion and the Cobra, but everything comes to a screeching halt when she becomes pregnant by her drummer, John Reynolds. She tells Hot Press years later that when she confesses her pregnancy to the studio, they send her to a doctor who pressures her to abort. "I was only 19 and freaked and all, this doctor said to me, 'Your record company has spent one hundred thousand quid recording your record, and you owe it to them not to have the baby.' And then he tried to convince me that terrible things would happen to the baby, for example, if I went out on tour while I was pregnant, or got on an airplane or whatever, that the baby would be ill. Not that it would die, but that it would be born mentally handicapped. I swear on a stack of Bibles that that's literally what happened." O'Connor bows to the pressure and goes to have the abortion, but decides at the last minute to keep the baby and returns to work on her record. The original recording is deemed "too Celtic" and scrapped, so O'Connor, seven months pregnant, produces the album herself. Her son Jake and The Lion and the Cobra both made their debut in 1987, the same year that O'Connor starts to cement her reputation as a shit disturber, calling out U2 repeatedly over the next few years as she does press for her album, becoming the new face of Irish music. She denounces Bono and the band as hypocrites and frauds.
Adam Clayton responds to Hot Press in 1989 about O'Connor's onslaught of attacks and is sceptical about her chance for success in the future. "The fact of the matter is that we went to a lot of trouble to help Sinéad's career in the early days. And that's what you do, if you can," Clayton says. "Now, for some reason, she cannot accept that and has had to lash out. But Bono in particular pioneered Sinéad. He went to a lot of trouble encouraging her; the Edge used her on the soundtrack for Captive; there were various negotiations with Ensign Records that Ossie Kilkenny was involved in ― so she's talking crap. I don't know why she's doing it. It's stupid. It's immature. She'll learn. But I know damn well that she won't be making records in ten years. I was interested in her because I thought she was a great talent and I thought she had a future. That's why you support people. Now I'm not so sure that she has what it takes to last."
1990 to 1992
Though O'Connor earns one Grammy nomination for her debut, her major breakthrough arrives courtesy of her second album, I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got, and her cover of Prince's "Nothing Compares 2 U," the signature break-up song of Generation X. Its accompanying video is simple but devastating for the time: mostly just a close-up of the bald beauty's sweet, elf-like face, tears welling up in big, sad eyes until two artfully escape down her cheeks. She speaks the devastation of the soul, she wears a big black trench coat and isn't one of those ugly criers. Overnight, O'Connor becomes the unlikely symbol of countless members of the disenfranchised: sad waif; angry rebel; new feminist; raging bitch; defiant politico. She begins to speak publicly about the childhood trauma of her abusive mother and child advocacy. She capitalizes on her increasing fame, using it to leverage her political and social beliefs, likening herself to singer/songwriters from the '60s who spoke out against Vietnam and in favour of civil rights. In May, she backs out of a scheduled Saturday Night Live appearance because shock-douche comedian Andrew Dice Clay is hosting, and in August refuses to allow the national anthem to be played before her concert in New Jersey (Frank Sinatra, who is performing the next night in the same venue, publicly threatens to kick her in the ass).
In 1991, despite being nominated for several awards, she boycotts the Grammy Awards on the grounds of "extreme commercialism." According to CraveOnline, it is the first time in Grammy history that an artist refuses to accept the awards. In July, she releases a four-song EP, My Special Child, benefiting the Red Cross program to help Kurdish children. In September, in a Spin interview, she admits the boycott is also in protest of the bombing in the Middle East and reveals that the song "My Special Child" is about an abortion she had in 1990, which was preceded by three miscarriages. A few weeks later, on Sept. 22, she releases her third album, Am I Not Your Girl?, a collection of jazz standards that she grew up singing. Critics accuse her of squandering her fame because the album, a total departure from her breakthrough, fails to build on that momentum.
The album is eclipsed thanks to O'Connor's career-defining/derailing performance on Saturday Night Live on Oct. 3. At the end of her rendition of Bob Marley's "War," O'Connor holds up a picture of Pope John Paul II, tears it in pieces, and says, "Fight the real enemy." It is a stunning moment ― for both the audience and the SNL crew ― that results in massive public outrage. A few people throw their support behind O'Connor, praising her bold efforts to raise awareness about the massive corruption in the Roman Catholic Church and its disgusting cover-up of widespread sexual abuse within the diocese. Most, though, see her act as sacrilege, and the outcry reaches a feverish point of almost mass hysteria two weeks later when she's scheduled to perform at a Bob Dylan tribute concert. The audience turns on her so harshly that she's forced off the stage in tears. Legendary singer/songwriter and actor Kris Kristofferson, who was organizing the tribute, shares his recollection of that night in an interview with the Charleston City Paper in 2010, while doing press for his newest album, Closer to the Bone, which contains his song "Sister Sinead," a tribute to freedom of speech and the Irish singer/songwriter. "I've never ever seen everybody boo somebody. I'd never heard anything like it," Kristofferson recalls. "The guy who was runnin' the stage came up to me and he said, 'Get her off the stage ― now.' It shocked me so bad, I walked up there to her and said to her, 'Don't let the bastards get you down.' And it went over the microphone! She said, 'I'm not down' and sang this other song, and then she wheeled around and she was so shocked I guess by what they were doing, she threw up on the stage. She may be wrong, but she may not be, you know? I've never seen an audience turn on a person like that."
The Roman Catholic Church may be O'Connor's public enemy number one, but Madonna does her best to ingratiate herself into the debacle. The singer/songwriter, who's often accused of sacrilegious behaviour herself, repeatedly attacks O'Connor in the press and tells the Irish Times, "I think there is a better way to present her ideas rather than ripping up an image that means a lot to other people." When Madonna appears on SNL Jan. 16, 1993 she holds up a picture of Joey Buttafuoco and tears it up, saying, "Fight the real enemy."
1993 to 1999
The long-term fallout from O'Connor's actions shuttles her out of the limelight, at least in North America. In Ireland, she continues to be a polarizing figure for her criticism of the Roman Catholic Church and its complicity in prolonging the suffering of children through sexual abuse. She tours and records with former Genesis singer/songwriter Peter Gabriel and the two become romantically involved. It's rumoured that the rocky nature of their relationship (O'Connor later tells Hot Press, "I was his weekend pussy. I wasn't a girlfriend.") drives O'Connor to a breakdown and suicide attempt. She opens up about the suicide attempt to Q magazine the following year while doing press for her fourth album, Universal Mother, explaining how she broke down in a hotel room and swallowed sleeping pills and a bottle of vodka. "When I woke up, I was glad that I was alive." In the same interview, she divulges more details of her mother's abuse, which is alluded to on the album's second track, "Fire on Babylon." She recalls how her mother would "make me take all my clothes off and force me to lie on the floor and she would stamp on my abdomen with the intention of bursting my womb. That's what she said, 'I'm going to burst you.'" The album fails to reignite her career and she tours with Lollapalooza but leaves the festival when she becomes pregnant with her second child. Daughter Roisin is born in 1996, and a bitter custody battle begins the following year with the father, Irish journalist John Waters.
O'Connor further retreats from the public eye to explore her spirituality. She reveals a softer side on her 1997 EP, Gospel Oak, telling The New York Times, "If Universal Mother was a prayer, then these are the answer. In that sense, the songs are also hymns. I also like the idea of calling it Gospel Oak, because the oak is a symbol of the worship of the mother. So it's the gospel of the mother.'' O'Connor's seemingly volatile relationship with Christianity peaks in 1999; seven years after tearing up the Pope's picture and derailing her promising career, O'Connor becomes Mother Bernadette Mary, an ordained priestess of the Irish Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church, an independent Catholic group. In a BBC interview she apologizes for the SNL debacle, saying "I'm sorry I did that, it was a disrespectful thing to do. I have never even met the Pope. I am sure he is a lovely man. It was more an expression of frustration." Her new religious designation does little to quell the troubled singer's personal life. She and Waters continue their war of words over Roisin, and O'Connor attempts suicide again on her 33rd birthday.
2000 to 2003
In the liner notes to O'Connor's fourth album, Faith and Courage, she writes "Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit as it was in the Beginning. Is now and ever shall be. World without end. Jah! Rastafari! Read I! This record is dedicated to all Rastafari people..."
The album is eclipsed again by O'Connor's personal life. A week before the record's debut, O'Connor announces her homosexuality on the cover of lesbian magazine Curve. In her interview, she reveals "I'm a lesbian... I haven't been very open about that, and throughout most of my life I've gone out with blokes because I haven't necessarily been terribly comfortable about being a lesbian. But I actually am a lesbian." Within months, she begins to backtrack from that statement and in 2001 marries journalist Nicholas Sommerland.
In 2001, she reports musician Shane McGowan to the police for drug possession. The two remain friends and will discuss the matter in an interview with Hot Press in 2007:
Shane: The one argument we did have, you were actually right.
Sinead: I can't even remember what it was about. What did we argue about?
Shane: About the smack... [Laughs]
Sinead: Ah yeah! Even then, we didn't actually argue...
Shane: No, no. You just went to the cops...
Sinead: Quite happily. But we didn't have an argument about it.
In 2002, she releases her fifth album, a collection of Irish folk songs, Sean-Nós Nua, which translates as In the True Old Style. Critics praise her relaxed confidence, and though it isn't a major hit, it signals the most stable version of O'Connor yet. But 2003 proves to be a year of major highs and lows: O'Connor contributes a song to a Dolly Parton tribute album, releases a double album of B-sides and a live concert, She Who Dwells in the Secret Place of the Most High Shall Abide Under the Shadow of the Almighty, and announces her retirement from music. In a message to her fans, she writes: "This being a very special anniversary for me, I have chosen it to announce that as of July 2003 I shall be retiring from the music business. In order to pursue a different career. The last recordings I will make will be (believe it or not) a track for Dolly Parton's upcoming tribute album and a track for Sharon Shannon's forthcoming album. These will be recorded in May. In July I will be releasing a DVD of a live show and documentary featuring tracks from way back along with tracks from Sean Nos Nua. The DVD will be entitled Goodnight, thankyou. You've been a lovely audience. And so ye have. I wish here to thank everyone who has been a fan and or supporter of mine over the last 22 years in the music business (first record at 14, deal at 17. Half of first album wrote when 15). As well as all the people whom I have had the honour of working with. Not least the great Dolly Parton herself! Thanks to all of ye for a great time and a great education. I would request that as of July, since I seek no longer to be a 'famous' person, and instead I wish to live a 'normal' life, could people please afford me my privacy. By which I mean I would like not to have exploitation of my self or my name or anyone connected with me by newspapers. I also mean that (with love) I want to be like any other person in the street and not have people say there is Sinead O'Connor. As I am a very shy person, believe it or not. So I ask with love, that I be left in peace and privacy by people who love my records too. And I hope it doesn't sound rude. It ain't meant rude. I am glad that ye are helped by my songs. So help me too, by giving me what is best for me, a private life. My advise to anyone who ever admires a so-called 'celebrity' if u see them in the street, don't even look at them. If u love them, then the lovingest thing u can do to show them so is leave them alone and don't stare at them! Or bang on restaurant windows when they in there. Or make them get their picture taken, or write their names on bits of paper. That's pieces of them. And one day they wake up with nothing left of themselves to give. Love, peace, and don't 4get to pray y'all."
In a 2007 interview with The Age, O'Connor recalls her decision to retire, saying "I was wading through these walls of prejudice and false ideas about me and I found it really painful. It was very abusive and I was suicidal over it for years. I thought I was a total piece of shit and I got to the point when I felt I couldn't carry it any longer. When you go to work, you shouldn't be made to feel like crying." A little more than a month after announcing her retirement, O'Connor discovers she's pregnant with her third child. The baby, Shane, is conceived with fellow musician Donal Lunny, who leaves O'Connor when she's just eight weeks along.
2004 to 2010
O'Connor is finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder (which she'll reveal publicly three years later on the Oprah Winfrey Show). The medication seems to help, as O'Connor retreats to focus on her family and her home life, but her retirement is short-lived. In June 2005, she releases an album of collaborations, appropriately enough titled Collaborations, featuring recordings with a variety of artists including U2, former lover Peter Gabriel, Massive Attack and The The. Just five months later, she releases a reggae covers album, Throwdown Your Arms, inspired by her newfound interest in Rastafarianism. In 2006, O'Connor becomes embroiled in a very public dispute involving her new lover, Frank Bonadio, and his estranged wife, Irish singer Mary Coughlan. The histrionics between the two women play out through mudslinging in the tabloids and a series of threatening texts that are published by The Independent, confirming that O'Connor still has a way with words: "Be very afraid, by the time I'm finished, you will be crying for your Mummy. I eat crazy bitches like you for breakfast." O'Conner becomes pregnant with her fourth child, Yeshua, but ends the relationship with Bonadio shortly after the baby is born due to the ensuing issues with Coughlan. They reunite a few months later and stay together for four years.
In 2007 O'Connor releases Theology, an album of mostly new songs inspired by the Old Testament. In an interview with Spinner, she explains that her ongoing interest in Rastafarian culture is separate from her Catholicism and calls out Oasis for letting Prime Minister Tony Blair stroke their egos. "A lot of people think [Rastafarianism] is a religion ― it's not. It's an anti-political movement. We believe politics is the problem, actually. So I don't believe in politics. I wouldn't even vote, 'cause I just think they're all wankers, every one of them. None of them give a s*** about anyone or anything. OK, I'm sure there are one or two who do, but they don't get elected anyway. But also I get nervous when I see musicians getting involved with politicians. Fair enough you want to write a political song, but when you get to the stage, for example, of having your picture taken with George Bush you're bringing music into disrepute, in my opinion ... because music exists partly to challenge those authorities. And if you start becoming friends with those authorities, then how are you going to challenge them? So it makes me uncomfortable, like when Tony Blair was elected into office, suddenly he's inviting Oasis around for tea and Oasis are going because the politicians are very clever, they're playing on our vanities."
O'Connor resurfaces with a new song collaboration with Mary J. Blige in support of an organization called GEMS (Girls Education & Mentoring Services), which empowers women ages 12 to 21 who are victims of sex trafficking or sexual abuse. O'Connor and Bonadio's relationship ends, and she suddenly marries her bandmate, Steve Cooney, in July. They announce their marriage on O'Connor's blog: "We who run this site are very happy to announce the marriage of Steve Cooney and Sinéad O'Connor has taken place this morning. Thanks be to the Great Lord Jah. Rastafarai. Dread I. Conquering Lion I. One love."
Happiness is short-lived: in the early part of 2011, some suicidal-sounding tweets have people predicting another breakdown and O'Connor publicly admitting her uncertainty about coping with motherhood. Simultaneously, her marriage to Cooney is ending after just eight months. She tells the Daily Mail, "Steve is lovely so it's not his fault but mine. It was an extremely happy marriage. I'm heartbroken about it breaking up." She goes on to say that her recent weight gain, from her bipolar prescription medication, is also a factor. "I didn't mind putting on weight ― the problem is strangers telling me I was fat. That was hard on our marriage." Just a few months later, news that O'Connor is planning a "comeback" gains momentum as she begins performing intimate shows. Her appearance is criticized, but there's strong industry buzz about the new album. In an interview with Hot Press, she says it's a "very personal album, as most of my stuff tends to be. The album was written between 2007 and 2009, when I was going out with Frank, actually. So really any kind of love songs that are on there are about him. Probably most of the songs are inspired by him." Advance press and hype about the new records is side-tracked in August, when O'Connor writes on her website and twitter that she's looking for a "sweet, sex-starved man," and makes clear her sexual appetite is quite diverse: "Yes I 'do anal' and in fact I would be deeply unhappy if 'doing anal' wasn't on the menu, amongst everything else$$ So if u don't like 'the difficult brown' don't apply..." and that women "will also be very much considered."
On Sept. 14, O'Connor publicly ponders suicide in a series of tweets, which are reported widely: "All this shit we're not supposed to say. Including suicidal feelings, sex, etc. U just get treated like a crazy person. I want to go to heaven SO bad. Have for yrs ... Can't manage any more. Badly wish cud die without it ruining my kids lives." The ensuing result is a public debate about O'Connor's health, the safety of her children, and plenty of gossip fodder, which O'Connor addresses in an open letter on her website on Sept. 17.
On Sept. 26, O'Connor takes to her blog again to clarify that she is not bipolar, but has been re-diagnosed as "situationally depressed" and has been taking medicine for eight years for a condition from which she does not suffer. The next day, also on her blog, O'Connor lashes out at those who have criticized her: "Nasty people say I'm looking for attention, talking about suicidal feelings. Yes. Maybe I am looking for attention. Because I'd like to stay alive. And the ways in which nasty judgemental people might feel I should have tried instead of speaking out, I've already done them all. Suicidal feelings are not always a symptom of 'crazy'-ness... Or a medical problem. They're often a spiritual problem, or simply a person is being treated like shit and can't handle it. Or a person is lonely. 'Lonely' is now another word people use as a term of abuse. Sometimes a person feeling suicidal just needs to be loved. And shown how precious and priceless they are. Anyway. Am guna write. Because in my country there is no help because if u say u feel suicidal people label u crazy. Or run. I would never act on suicidal feelings OTHER THAN BY WRITING. And I'm guna do that because it will keep me alive. I'm not always guna write depressing shit. I'm just tellling u today, how it feels to be treated as nasty people have treated me for the last six weeks or so. And the previous 25 yrs... I can't just not be able to share it when it comes. People do run. Or say 'don't say that' and literally don't want to talk about it. Sure how would anyone know what to say? They get confused too. Cus once they know for sure u won't act on it. They think that's it sorted. But to me it's about quality of life. It isn't enuff for me to be sure (which I am) that I would never attempt suicide again. I did once. It was almost successful. When I woke in the hospital I was relieved it hadn't worked because it would have destroyed my sister. I hadn't considered that before. Cus suicidal people are so because we think we're shit and unloveable. But we're not."
On Oct. 10, O'Connor reveals that her new album, the first in five years, will finally be released in Feb. 2012 and will now be called How About I Be Me (And You Be You?), instead of its original title, Home.
On Oct. 21, she announces her "manhunt" is over and that she has a new boyfriend, Barry Herridge, an addiction counsellor. In a Dec. 5 interview with Hot Press, O'Connor looks back over her romantic history, admitting, "I think it's too easy to get married. Like, I've been married three times, really I should only have been married once. And no one should be married more than fuckin' twice, to be honest. I don't regret my first marriage, but I do regret the second. They are lovely people and I've no complaints about them as people, or whatever. But it was ― and I'm sure they'd say the same ― it was too easy to rush into something. They should make it more difficult to get married." Despite this, she marries Herridge in a Las Vegas wedding chapel on Dec. 9, a day after her 45th birthday, and posts a wedding announcement on her website: "Am blogging this cus media people are naturally seeking me. On Sunday I will put up blog on whole day. Too glorious for words. For now though, as you will appreciate, it's a bit of a 'Can't. Talk. C--k. In. Mouth.' situation. Xxx."
According to O'Connor herself, the marriage is over almost before it begins, when later that night she brings her new husband along on a wild goose chase for marijuana. Instead, O'Connor ends up with crack. O'Connor blames pressure from Herridge's family and the drugs for their separation just 18 days later. In the meantime, there's one bright spot professionally: the song O'Connor performs on the Albert Nobbs' soundtrack is nominated for a Golden Globe on Dec. 15.
As of Jan. 3, O'Connor and Herridge reunite. But on Jan. 11, O'Connor again takes to twitter with her suicidal impulses. This time, she asks for help, stating "Does any1 know a psychiatrist in Dublin or Wicklow who could urgently see me today please? Im really un-well....and in danger" and "I desperately need to get back on meds today. am in serious danger." She later admits that on Jan. 5 she had overdosed on pills in an unsuccessful suicide attempt. On Jan. 13, O'Connor announces that she and Herridge are divorcing and swears off love. Finally, on Jan. 18, O'Connor checks in to the hospital and begins treatment for her depression. On Jan. 26, her blog reveals that she will be making videos of her covers of Bob Dylan's Christian songs. She returns to Twitter on Jan. 27, but with a new, "private" account (@vampyahslayah7) intended to keep out media. O'Connor is scheduled to start touring Feb. 20, the same day How About I Be Me (And You Be You?) is released.
I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got (Ensign/Chrysalis, 1990)
Five years before Alanis stuck one hand in her pocket, Sinéad O'Connor was penning confessional, heart-on-her-trenchcoat-sleeve, alt-rock odes and indictments about love, pain, injustice and religion. I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got was hijacked by the overwhelming success of her soulful, sad cover of Prince's "Nothing Compares 2 U," but the rest of the tracks signal a woman with an almost unworldly talent, lyrically and vocally. Every song is choked with words and concepts and themes, but it never feels like overkill thanks to O'Connor's unique voice: she tears at the phrases like an lioness opening up the flesh of its prey.
Sean-Nós Nua (Vanguard, 2002)
Ten years after O'Connor tore up the Pope's picture on Saturday Night Live, she was still mostly out of favour with North American audiences and was both a source of pride and pain in her native Ireland. Sean-Nós Nua, O'Connor's only album of Irish traditionals and folk songs, plays as equal parts penance and ode. Her voice is warm and inviting, and her charming accent curls around the penny whistles and fiddles, capturing moments both whimsical and darkly longing. The collection is O'Connor glancing back at her life, and taking a few tentative steps towards a achieving a peace between herself and her homeland.
How About I Be Me (And You Be You?) (Relativity, 2012)
O'Connor's comeback is chock full of songs that American Idol contestants can't wait to get their hands on ― soulful and sad, with brief punctuation marks of happy, fragile hope. There's also an urgency and purpose that O'Connor has been missing in recent years: it's like she's been awakened from a long coma and is shaking off the slumber. The album's opener, "4th and Vine" is easily one of the best songs of the year: fun, frisky and a vintage-inspired throwback with a rockabilly edge.