Sound — 6
Sinéad O'Connor has been a controversial musician since she started releasing albums in the late '80s. She attracts attention to any one of the various causes for which she is an activist by being controversial. For example, in support of feminism, she, for her entire career, shaved her head. In addition, she recently penned a letter to Miley Cyrus decrying her image for trying to make it seem that "it's somehow cool to be prostituted." She is probably most remembered for when she tore an image of the Pope in half during a performance on "Saturday Night Live" to protest the Catholic Church, which earned her a harsh rebuke from NBC, who had no idea she would do that.
With her latest album, "I'm Not Bossy, I'm The Boss," she sustains the attitude with even the title. And, to ice the cake, she dedicated the album to herself. Obviously O'Connor wants to send a message with everything she does. Unsurprisingly, this means that the album is concentrated on the vocals. The guitar parts aren't too shabby and the rest of the instrumentation is somewhat diverse, but in the end it is obvious that the vocals are the driving force of the album. What does degrade the album is that the music sometimes develops around the vocals instead of the other way around. This generally limits the album from reaching its full potential from a musical standpoint; O'Connor has good ideas, but there are times when she does not give them the room to grow. There are also times when it feels like the music could be used to further personify the lyrics, yet these opportunities are seldom capitalized on. Her light use of keyboards and guitars is oftentimes neither distinct enough to be remembered nor interesting enough to be appreciated on the spot on their own merit.
Considering that Sinéad O'Connor is characterized as a pop musician, her amount of minimalism throughout the album is not too surprising. However, O'Connor walks a fine line. Her simple music may be an attempt to provide a simple base for the vocals to lather over. But there are times when the nondescript music makes for nondescript songs in general and thus the message of the lyrics is lost. For example, one doesn't pay attention to the message in elevator music, one just listens for the peaceful, little groove and then forgets it a couple of seconds later.
There are a couple of intriguing moments, like during "Harbour" when O'Connor starts a hard, fast, driving rock beat with electric guitars that grab the listener's attention. In reality, it is not that the song is hard rock that makes it noteworthy, it is that the music ceases, for the moment to play second fiddle to the vocals.
Production wise, there aren't too many hidden tricks or odd techniques. All of the instruments except the drums are recorded masterfully; the drums lack the clarity of all the other instruments in the mix.
Lyrics — 8
For anyone new to Sinéad O'Connor, her voice is not that impressive. It is not bad, but certainly not at the level that would make someone say, "Wow, what a great singer!" O'Connor's real talent and appeal comes from her lyrics which deal with elevating the rights/individuality of women. Many of the lyrics deal with standing up for the individuality of women as related to relationships with men, usually sexual. As a side note, O'Connor's harmonies are well-placed throughout the album.
Here is a sample of O'Connor's lyrics from "The Voice of My Doctor":
"A giant man of stone is crying.
A gentle lady rests her face.
Her cheek against his, oh so softly,
She's just a figure full of grace.
The voice of my doctor
Keeps interrupting my view
It says 'Oh you've gone and let another
Fool make a fool out of you.'
Oh and I did, I did, yes I did
'Cause you never said you have a girl you love
Oh, you tricked me into thinking that you loved me
You tricked me into making love."
Overall Impression — 6
Personally, this album is just not interesting enough for me to pay attention to the meaning behind the lyrics. I almost view it as a sort of easy listening album that would be best heard on a quiet drive home or maybe in passing at a restaurant or department store. Nevertheless, I think it would be easy enough for someone to be absorbed by the songs and be inclined to learn the lyrics and then sing along, making the album at least average.
Unfortunately, there isn't much to take away from this album in terms of guitar. In terms of listening to great guitar work, there isn't much of that to be found. In terms of learning something useful related to playing the guitar, this album is a good lesson in subtlety and how guitars can be used to texture a song instead of playing a central role. However, at the same time, the lack of very good guitar playing is one of my main disappointments with this album because I believe that there could have been good, prominent guitar work while remaining subtle at the same time.