There has never been mistaking Sinead O'Connor for anybody else. A voice born to break as many hearts as windows, as tender as it is lethal. The face, simultaneously that of ocean-wide-eyed angel and shaven-headed warrior queen. And the spirit, courageous in its conviction, undaunted by controversy, and fortified with endless reserves of resilience. Sinead O'Connor is that rare thing in popular music: a complete one-off. From her first breakthrough hit, 1987's "Mandinka," to the multi-platinum international success of 1990's I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got, with its unforgettable No. 1 version of Prince's "Nothing Compares 2 U," from her fearless genre-crossing forays into Irish folk and roots reggae to her collaborations with artists as diverse as Peter Gabriel, Massive Attack, and The Chieftans, O'Connor has trodden a unique path to become the most iconic Irish female artist of the past 30 years. There is no one like Sinead O'Connor. There is only Sinead O'Connor.
Lest the world dare forget who O'Connor is, it's about to be reminded once more. 25 years after her debut, 1987's The Lion and The Cobra, she returns with How About I Be Me (And You Be You), her ninth studio album and as showstopping a performance as her silver jubilee deserves. Produced by long-term collaborator John Reynolds, the disc's 10 tracks play like an encyclopedic definition of O'Connor's oeuvre: songs about love and loss, hope and regret, pain and redemption, anger and justice. "I kind of realized I've spent a lot of my life as an artist being told what I should be," says O'Connor of the title. "Being told you should be this, you shouldn't do that. You get to a certain age when you realize no, it's perfectly okay for me to be me, thank you very much, and you to be you. But it's very much an Irish thing. It's really a comment about Ireland and what it's like to be an Irish female artist, and particularly this Irish female artist."
Saying, and singing, things the way they are: it's what Sinead O'Connor has been doing best for the last 25 years. "I don't like comparing my records," she concludes, "but I do think there is a confidence there with this one. For a few years I went very into myself and I think I wasn't confident to be me because I was taking a kicking every time I did anything. So it seems to me that with this record I am more confident being me. You just grow into that way of thinking, y'know, what?" She laughs: "F**k off!"
The irrepressible, irreplaceable Sinead O'Connor. How about she be herself and we just be thankful for it?