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Disc of the week: Sinead gets her boom box back Add to ...

How about you be you, Sinéad O'Connor? Is that what you’re suggesting? Well, absolutely. That’s what we’ve been waiting for. What a smashing idea.

How About I Be Me (And You Be You)? is the Irish iconoclast’s first album since 2007’s spotty Theology, which followed releases that covered reggae and traditional Irish folk songs. This new one is an arresting record that recalls the singer-songwriter’s early career, when nothing compared to her. Boldly immediate, often beautiful, and as blunt as her haircut, the album couldn’t have come at a better time.

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O’Connor has been in the news of late. There was the desperate plea on her Twitter account about her suicidal urges. And her marriage seems to be of the manic sort – on and off again like the refrigerator light bulb in Cee Lo Green’s kitchen. This, her ninth LP, is a positive development and a change in talking points. Recorded with her long-time collaborator (and first husband) John Reynolds, concerns love and loss, hope and regret, anger and justice – universal themes, often well-worked by O’Connor.

Jumping right to the last page of this book, the last track, V.I.P., is a stark hymn that questions vanity, materialism and the worship of celebrities, with O’Connor casting her eyes upward to the red carpet in the sky. “To whom exactly are we giving hope,” she asks, “when we stand behind the velvet rope, or get our pictures taken with the Pope?”

Are you listening, Susan Boyle, the pseudo idol who sang I Dreamed a Dream to Pope Benedict XVI? And we’re looking at you too, Nicki Manaj, speaking of papal-ish photo ops. Manaj, you might have seen, did a ritualistic Catholic thing at last weekend’s Grammy Awards. O’Connor, ordained a priest in an independent Catholic group in 1999, as well as being a well-known Vatican-basher, exorcises her demons less outlandishly.

Reason With Me, an intense, breathy and darkly cinematic ballad, tells the story a junkie thief who won’t love, for fearing of losing that love. On the other side of the pendulum is the joyous opening track, 4th and Vine, which bounces, plunks and strums along like a Paul Simon ditty. It’s all about her recent Las Vegas wedding – “I will, I will, I will.”

The Wolf Is Getting Married rocks to an up beat, with sentiments bright and hopeful. Sounding like a Neko Case vehicle, it’s as buoyant as we’ve ever heard from O’Connor.

And then there’s this: “I bleed the blood of Jesus over you,” she sings on Take Off Your Shoes, which O’Connor has described as an imagined address delivered by the Holy Spirit at the Vatican. “You brought me into infamy, and now you’re so surprised to see me,” she intones. “Even you can’t lie when I’m around.”

Yeah, awkward. Imagine the Catholic establishment, looking for any excuse to cut that meeting short. “Um, H.S., we’d love to chat, but we’ve got Susan Boyle in the next room.”

A Rolling Stone feature on O’Connor in 1990 began with the singer asking a question: “Where’s my boom box?” More than 20 years later, How About I Be Me (And You Be You)? isa return to form. O’Connor is O’Connor again.

How About I Be Me (And You Be You)?

  • Sinéad O'Connor
  • One Little Indian/Universal


OTHER NEW RELEASES

ROCK

Plumb

  • Field Music
  • Memphis Industries
  • Three and a half stars

Here come the British brothers David and Peter Brewis, back with their second album of progressive – who said egg-headed? not me – rock after a brief hiatus. Where 2010’s Measure was a double album, Plumb lasts just 36 lovely-sounding minutes. Rhythms are lively, voices are high and harmonious, and tuneful tracks flow naturally into each other. Field Music says Yes to early Genesis; Guillotine is Dan at his Steeliest. But this isn’t ancient history: The disc ends with (I Keep Thinking About) A New Thing – a title which sums up the album’s often upbeat lyrical themes, sounding like progress. Brad Wheeler

POP

Some Nights

  • Fun.
  • Warner
  • Two stars

I kept hearing about the hip-hop elements that Fun. brought to its second album. Wait, the AutoTune effect on It Gets Better, was that it? The song by these grandiose popsters is dime-a-dozen emo-punk, that gets across its encouraging advice in the laziest lyrical way possible, by chanting “It gets better, it gets better, it gets better.” This LP borrows ideas and collects highly manipulative, keep-your-chin-up cheer, dressing up ideas on life’s lights and tunnels with marching drums, anthemic swells and ornate arrangements. This kind of stuff has been done better, notably by the colourful singer-songwriter Mika. Now that guy was fun. B.W.

POP

Visions

  • Grimes
  • Arbutus
  • Three stars

There’s nothing particularly grimy about the electronic grooves Claire Boucher constructs here; if anything, her soft-focus synths and gently thrumming groove evoke a gauzy palette, particularly when she swathes her multitracked vocals in layers of reverb. That’s not to suggest that there’s no edge here, as tracks like Oblivion and the vaguely robotic Eight evoke dance-club urgency without resorting to grinding distortion. But for all her rhythmic savvy and melodic inventiveness, Boucher – who has released four albums as Grimes since 2010 – doesn’t seem much interested in the textural possibilities of electronica, colouring the arrangements like a child who’d rather stick to her four crayons than explore the rest of the box. J.D. Considine

CLASSICAL

J. S. Bach: Johannes-Passion

  • Les Voix Baroques and Arion Orchestre Baroque
  • Atma Classique
  • Three and a half stars

J. S. Bach’s St. John Passion is more intimate, more mystical and more volatile than its august cousin, The St. Matthew Passion. It moves rapidly, with a great deal of contrast, and one of the strengths of this imposing performance – along with the remarkable clarity and focused sound of the ensemble singing – is the way it maintains dramatic momentum, often balancing different levels of activity and meaning within the same aria or chorus (although the microphones don’t catch all of the busy, argumentative instrumental activity in the crowd scenes). Les Voix Baroques is a choir of soloists, most of whom have at least one solo: Among several stand-out arias are alto Meg Bragle’s luxuriously paced Es ist vollbracht, bass Stephan MacLeod’s sonorous Betrachte, meine Seel and an unusually brisk Erwäge, sung by tenor Lawrence Wiliford. Elissa Poole

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