Sinead O'Connor - She Who Dwells - 2CD
Sinead O’Connor really knows how to end a career. True, she’s been trying to do it since the early ‘90s, through incendiary action (ripping up a photo of Pope John Paul II on Saturday Night Live) and regularly spaced announcements of her retirement. The release of She Who Dwells comes with the caveat that it is O’Connor’s last willful act and musical testament—and, who knows, her third attempt to flee the music industry may stick. If so, it’s a shame because after nearly a decade of flailing musically, O’Connor rediscovered her true voice in 2002 with Sean-Nos Nua, an album of traditional Irish songs re-imagined in surprisingly fresh ways.
She Who Dwells (the full title is long enough to make Fiona Apple gasp for breath) is a two-CD set, but in typical O’Connor fashion it’s oddly framed. Disc one is a collection of 19 rarities and previously unreleased tracks split three very different ways. There are more traditional Irish tunes, her electronic collaborations with Massive Attack and Asian Dub Foundation, and a range of covers that includes songs written or made famous by Aretha Franklin, Gram Parsons, the B-52s, and Abba. (These latter tracks shouldn’t work, but for the best evidence they do, check out her almost Tex-Mex pop version of "Chiquitita.")
Disc two is a more traditional career-ending retrospective; it’s a 13-track recording taken from a late 2002 concert at Vicar Street Theatre in Dublin. About half the songs come from Sean-Nos Nua, with three songs each lifted off I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got and Universal Mother,. O’Connor is backed by a great band that features Irish music stalwarts Donal Lunny and Sharon Shannon. As good as they are, it’s O’Connor’s voice that stuns throughout, whether singing the Irish blues of "I Am Stretched on Your Grave" or a version of "Nothing Compares to U" that contains both flute and a stately cello solo.