I bought Sinéad O’Connor’s debut, The Lion and the Cobra, because Mandinko was on the radio and I liked it. The first time I played it, not having looked at the track listing, I noticed some meditative crooning about “Dublin in a Rainstorm”; the next time, a gut-grabbing throaty chant: “You should have left the lights on”; and then another time a howling declaration about rising, a phoenix from the flame. It took me a while to notice that all of these were from the same track: Troy. It’s a hell of a song.
It’s a hell of an album too; other highlights are Never Get Old and A Drink Before the War, which inspired me to a grief-stricken piece on the eve of the Iraq war. O’Connor recorded and produced on her own, twenty years old and seven months pregnant, on the way out of an abusive family. It’s an explosion of talent, songwriting and singing and arranging.
The word “Troy”, and the lyric about burning it, are a borrow from Yeats’ No Second Troy, which I hadn’t known until I chanced across the poem. I opined once that Sinéad ought to have thrown poor W.B. a credit and an Irish Friend said “it’d be superfluous, every Irish schoolkid has to learn that poem”.
This is one of the great vocal performances ever recorded by anybody, sung in a dozen different voices it seems; hard to believe that so young a throat could cover this range, or so young a mind write this song.
Sinéad’s had some seriously rough patches in her life and it’s hard for her to be happy. She doesn’t owe the world anything, but the world owes her a lot, just for this one song.
Links · iTunes, Amazon, Spotify. Now, before the video links, a word of caution: These performances are almost unbearably intense, and I think will be uncomfortable for some to watch. That said, most explosive, really scary, most polished (with a bit of sing-along).