Wednesday, 10 October 2007

SINEAD O'CONNOR: Success Has Made A Failure Of Our Home

The story that Sinead has offered Britney her home as a refuge is heartwarming, even if the offer is unlikely to be taken up; the right of women to go mad, to break down, and not be ridiculed or vilified for doing so, and even, or especially, to be helped gently back to recovery, cannot be underemphasised, particularly in a world which otherwise shows all the signs of regressing to the Dark Ages. Doherty is cheered; Winehouse is jeered.

Recent interviews find Sinead to have achieved at least some semblance of peace and contentment, and she deserves both more than most. In 1992 the sales of her own psychotherapeutic covers album, Am I Not Your Girl?, were demonstrably hit by the controversy spun around her exercising the democratic right to speak her own mind, and so its unresolved journey from childhood pain to abuse and exploitation was largely missed. “Success” was originally a C&W weepie made famous by Loretta Lynn early in her career; O’Connor and (re)arranger Doug Katsaros leave only the tune intact but change the harmonies and mood entirely. She has suggested that the performance can be viewed as an allegorical statement on prosperous Britain using its monied lever to suppress the Irish; whether it can be applied to her own situation at the time is debatable, though I note the prominent credit to then-husband John Reynolds on drums.

Thus “Success” gets the swooning Broadway treatment with an ominously confident tread of a rhythm which seems to approach from another direction entirely; during verses trumpets and trombones snarl out from unexpected angles, strings shimmer uncertainly in the middleground, and at the point where it looks about to grind to an elegiac halt, with her whispered sob “of our home,” Reynolds kicks the orchestra back towards its systematically more unsettling coda; the song and sentiments now entirely Sinead’s: “I never changed,” “You’re killing me,” and finally a repeated and increasingly frantic rosary of the semi-rhetorical question “Am I not your girl?” as the luxurious surroundings deconstruct behind and to both sides of her, melting into a barrage of free noise as the players steadily break into collective improvisation like a thousand resentful butterflies – not a thousand miles away from the climax of Septober Energy, although these are studio players rather than jazz improvisers per se; still, Lew Soloff is prominent on cackling trumpet, and several of the players were veterans of Mingus’ Let My Children Hear Music sessions (not to mention Bob Carlisle, from Escalator, among the French horns). The catharsis dies down, still unresolved (“Am I not…?”) before an untidy final chord abruptly terminated by the conductor’s whistle. Bulging with emotion and scope never likely to fit into a Top 20 – and yet it did go Top 20 as a single – “Success” marks a success for “our” side, though we should be careful not to wash our hands in unaccountable pools of ecstasy over her grief when the point is to help us to decodify and understand it.