Thursday, June 21, 2007
SINEAD O’CONNOR | Theology | Koch Records
Forget the televised papal provocations and getting booed from the stage at Madison Square Garden. Forget the press boycotts and wolf cries about retirement. For there is no stronger testament to the bewitching quality of Sinead O’Connor’s voice—an instrument of breath-taking force and tender fragility—than its power to transport listeners into emotional realms beyond the lingering baggage of her public persona.
After a rough, decade-long patch of controversy and mediocre records, the Irish lightning rod’s career is enjoying a rewarding second wind notable in part for its relative tranquility. Her latest, Theology, stands at the apex of that renaissance. The two-disc set—an acoustic, bare-bones disc and a set of full-band arrangements—are a revelation matching the spiritual nature of O’Connor’s nine originals and three covers.
The sparse settings of the Dublin Sessions feature O’Connor accompanied only by acoustic guitars, her whispers and cries heightening the songs’ intimacy. The London Sessions, expertly produced by Ron Tom, sound like an entirely different collection, the same songs (plus a cover of “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” from Jesus Christ Superstar) lusciously fleshed out with chamber strings, winds and rock accents. Like her earliest records, the songs build from whispered prayers into powerful crescendos, driven as much by O’Connor’s yearning vocals as the increased tempos. Standouts include the disc’s first single, “Something Beautiful (Jeremiah),” a transcendent gospel-tinged “If You Had a Vineyard (Isaiah),” and a soulful re-working of Curtis Mayfield’s “We People Who Are Darker Than Blue.”
Her spirited nature may be tempered by experience here, but O’Connor’s every bit as committed to creating “a place of peace in a time of war,” as she writes in the liner notes. Theology is a worthy mission beautifully accomplished. —John Schacht
THE BRAVERY | The Sun And The Moon | Island
After that whole dance-post-punk thing really got off the ground a few years back with bands like Franz Ferdinand and the Killers getting all crazy big, New York’s the Bravery kinda just missed the popularity boat and were often written off as trend-jumpers and Killers-wannabes. And while, yeah, they did actually sound like the aforementioned Mormon-fronted band, it seems like in hindsight they really got the short end of the stick since they’re not so bad after all. Perhaps all those knee jerk comparisons are responsible for The Sun And The Moon being so varied, featuring ska-tinged numbers, acoustic jams with violin swells and a bunch of other musical curveballs while still maintaining enough danceable rock to satisfy fans. By no means a terrifically unique or fantastic sophomore album, it still manages to avoid mediocrity, and not just because our expectations were so low to begin with. —Evan Davies
LIFESAVAS | Gutterfly | Quannum Projects
Great songwriting can transcend gimmickry. But for Portland, Ore., hip-hop trio Lifesavas, great songwriting fleshes out substantive musical qualities while exposing a few weaknesses.
The group’s second release, Gutterfly, is a concept album that resurrects the funk of ‘70s blaxploitation; but the narrative tale, chronicling characters with names like Bumpy Johnson and Sleepy Floyd, is weak at best. Songs like “No Surprise” and “A Serpent’s Love” are rife with intelligent lyrics, raw deliveries and beats that shine with a cool vibe in the tradition of Blackalicious. But the vague conceptual interludes draw attention away from the album’s brightest moments. The Fishbone cameo in “Dead Ones” pulls you right out of the moment, as do appearances from George Clinton, Vernon Reid and the likes. Each song stands on its own merits, but the distractions clip the wings off this otherwise excellent album. —Chad Radford