Sinead O'Connor sings ancient Irish melodies on her

Canadian Press, Wednesday, October 02, 2002 by DAVID BAUDER

NEW YORK (AP) - Once the quintessential angry young woman, Sinead O'Connor has a new mission with her music: She wants to soothe you.

O'Connor, who sings ancient Irish melodies on her new CD Sean-Nos Nua, loves nothing more than being the quietest act on the bill at music festivals, lowering the pulse rates of sweaty rock 'n' roll fans. Is this the same Sinead O'Connor, the bald battler who was the most polarizing figure in music a decade ago? Back then, she incurred Frank Sinatra's wrath by refusing to let The Star-Spangled Banner play before a concert and ripped apart a picture of Pope John Paul on live television in a protest against the Catholic Church. Even her look - a strikingly beautiful Irishwoman with a shaved head - was confrontational. "I'm 35 years of age," she said. "The difference between 20 and 35 is pretty enormous, isn't it? I was lucky to have an arena to express things. That's why most people get into bands, because they're (angry) and they want a way to express it. "But the whole point of doing that is that you move on into something calmer." Her behaviour probably permanently marginalized her career; the chances were small that an artist who engendered such hostility (she was booed off a Madison Square Garden stage at a Bob Dylan tribute concert) could recover with a mainstream audience. Age might have whittled down her audience by this point anyway; musicians don't stay young and hip forever. A decade later, this leaves her without a major label deal - but with the freedom to pursue some musical dreams. One was to record some very traditional Irish music, the kind that parents of her fans would listen to. She's been wanting to do this for a dozen years, she said, and felt she would "go insane" if she didn't. "The songs got under my skin and I couldn't stop hearing them," said O'Connor, who now has close-cropped black hair. "I'd walk around the house singing them." O'Connor learned many of the songs she sings on Sean-Nos Nua while growing up, from her father or in school. Even in Ireland, a lot of young people want nothing to do with the music. "People think it's really uncool," she said. "The sex got taken out of Irish music so it isn't really appealing to young people. "You have what I call 'trad-heads,' who are really into traditional music and don't want to change it," she said. "They say it must be played the way it always has. Because they're kind of stuck in a box about it, it became unappealing to younger people or to up-and-coming songwriters." O'Connor tried to dress up some of the songs in more modern or exotic rhythms, including Jamaican dancehall, and revive some passion in the lyrics. A song like My Lagan Love, for instance, is about a man returning from a journey and eager to see his lover, but through the years the sexual tension was removed from many interpretations, she said. O'Connor feels something supernatural in much of the music. "Ever since I was a kid, I was always fascinated with the ghosts that often speak through Irish songs," she said. "Even in the experience of singing them, you have to kind of move over and let the person in the song talk and get your own personality out of the way." She's depressed by the current Irish pop music scene. It's dominated by pre-fab "boy bands," much like in the United States until recently. Perhaps listening to some old songs could inspire others, she said. "It shows there is a calibre of Irish songwriting that doesn't exist anymore," she said. "Maybe we should all sort of strive to get better." O'Connor knows the disc has limited commercial appeal. A major label wouldn't put something like this out, so she turned to the respected folk label Vanguard Records. But she doesn't think it will turn off fans that have stuck with her through the years. "It's a very Sinead O'Connor record," she said. "I think they will get it. I also think it's something that might appeal to people who aren't Sinead O'Connor fans, people who like Irish singing. It's a singer's record in a lot of ways." She's not sure whether the angry, rock 'n' roll Sinead will ever turn up again, and she voices no regrets. "Music saved my life," she said. "It gave me a life that I wouldn't otherwise have had. It gave me (two) children - it all came from that. You can look around my house and say, 'Singing got me that.' "

© Copyright  2002 The Canadian Press