Sinead O’Connor has always courted controversy, but in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, the scandal was often accompanied by music so meaningful and resonant that it remained in the forefront (until the 1992 Pope/ “SNL” incident)
Not so in recent years. For the last five years or so, she was best known for getting into an online feud with Miley Cyrus, asking for help with her love life on line and, generally, going from eccentric to seeming distressingly mentally ill.
What a relief to listen to “I’m Not Bossy, I’m the Boss,” out today, and hear occasional glimpses of the unflinching brilliance from her earlier work that made her so compelling.
On first single, the upbeat, propulsive “Take Me To Church,” she begs to be taken to church, “but not the ones that hurt,” as she confesses “I’ve done so many bad things.” Ultimately, she concludes “I am the only one I should adore.” It’s a mantra and message repeated through the album.
Throughout “Bossy,” she takes on personas of different women and their relationships with their lovers, their gods, their demons and, most indelibly, themselves. They are either the one doing the snake charming, such as on wily, swaying “Kisses Like Mine,” where she declares she’s the femme fatale men call in after the divorce to get their mojo back, or the one being tricked by love, as on “The Voice of My Doctor.”
O’Connor has always infused her music with a carnality—mixed the sacred with the profane—and that duality is alive and well on “Bossy.” On “Kisses Like Mine,” she declares her kisses make grown men weak, even though she’s not the keeping kind. On “The Vishnu Room,” the spiritual and sensuality are interchangeable.
Her voice is still piercing and haunting and instantly recognizable. It may not have the scalpel-like fragility that it once had on songs like 1989’s “Mandinka,” but now there’s a harsh edge that only time and experience can bring, such as on aforementioned, guitar-driven “The Voice Of My Doctor,” a vitriolic tale of twisted love, or on “Where Have You Been,” one of the album’s most inviting tracks, when she asks why her lover’s eyes have gone black and what does he want from her.
Musically, O’Connor still enjoys a good loop and she has unerring good taste to never go overboard on the electronics so that a tune loses its humanity. As she has for much of her career, she manages to artfully incorporate organic and electronic instrumentation artfully, especially on “James Brown,” a fetching, toe-tapping track featuring legendary Nigerian artist Fela Kuti’s son, Seun Kuti, on saxophone.
The emotional pivot of the album is “Harbour,” a spindly ballad about a woman who has been let down by every man she’s ever met as she goes from one father figure to the next. About half-way in, the song turns to a drum-filled, electronic guitar miasma that builds like a cyclone picking up speed. It’s messy and ugly, but certainly hits its target and provides a catharsis of sorts.
She closes the album with “Streetcars.” Accompanied only by an occasional piano, O’Connor declares she will be the love she wants to see in the world as she realizes it will never be found above her or under her. She asks if she were dying, who would she want to see, and remembers a time when all she wanted was for her husband to lie over her and keep her safe. Her voice is strong, even when she reduces it to a whisper. If the rest of the album hasn’t captured you yet, this bravura, honest, vulnerable track will grab hold and won’t let go long after you’ve finished listening to “Body.”