Dedicated to those songs that I can’t stop playing, humming, or thinking about; the 4+ minutes you fall head-over-heels in love with. Past instances have included CCR’s “Ramble Tamble,” Beethoven’s “Pathetique,” and The Electric Six’s “Improper Dancing.”
I think I’m here because of nostalgia. I have no other explanation for the feeling I woke up to a few days ago when I thought to myself, “You know what song I’d like to hear today? ‘No Man’s Woman’ by Sinead O’Connor.” I haven’t heard the song in years and years, and probably would have never heard it in the first place if a friend of my wife hadn’t given her — not me — a copy of “Faith and Courage.”
She is more famous for doing crazy things than she is for her songs. I would imagine people 20 years from now will be surprised to learn she was a singer primarily and not just some upstart. If you think about it, the only two songs anybody ever thinks of when they think of Sinead is “Nothing Compares To You” and “The Song She Sang On SNL That Nobody Actually Remembers Because She Tore Up A Picture Of The Pope.” That was Bob Marley’s “War.”
I feel like I know way more about O’Connor’s personal life than her musical career, and that might be to her benefit. It’s like “Plastic Ono Band,” an album that only works emotionally if you know who John Lennon is and what band he was in, but who doesn’t know that? Even if you can’t list off the specifics of O’Connor’s life, you can ballpark the whole thing into one lumpy “she’s often emotional and upset” bag. Off the top of my head and with no research, I want to say that she fought to become a Catholic priest and was a lesbian for a stint, but I might be way off. What I do know is that she had a bald head for a while, and that was the first straw in herf controversy barn. Whether my facts are straight or not, the real truth is that I hang onto them, and they make her career more vivid in my imagination.
This is what I’ve longed to cling to all week. To be perfectly honest, the GSATM’s recently have fallen off my obsession radar, and that might have more to do with my own personal distractions than the quality of the music (“Smash You” deserves the title, for example, just as the Houston Rockets deserve to be NBA champs during those two years Michael Jordan wasn’t playing; just because the NBA wasn’t as interesting or as competetive doesn’t mean the winning team shouldn’t win–though I have probably argued for an asterisk). I’m hustling for work, turning down horrible looking jobs (yes, they still make jobs where you drive for an hour plus to sit in a windowless room smelling like old paper only to TEST for the job to see if you QUALIFY for an interview. An interview that won’t happen until the next day, by which time you will have realized you won’t take it even if they upped the offer to–get ready for it–$13 an hour), and preparing for our family’s first baby. I’ve got a lot on my mind, and the brain space that would normally be dedicated to repeat play dissection and obsession has to figure out where to get a will made and how to build a dresser with a changing table. So I need something more than just music. I need power.
Which brings us to “No Man’s Woman,” a the sonic equivalent of victory and the 1990′s. It’s the song I need at this moment, even if the context of the lyrics don’t relate to me/call into question my sexuality. “No Man’s” was clearly made in the post Alanis period of angry-musical-women production, but it happens to come with the context that has plagued and actually helps O’Connor’s career. Like I said earlier without any research, O’Connor has tried to become a priest. She’s a very spiritual person, and the song appears to be about her relationship with God. By the end.
Before the end, we get a trip down production memory lane, where sort-of dance beats walk us into the declaration that Sinead doesn’t wanna be no man’s woman. She’s giving up on guys. I don’t blame her. The lyrics border on hacky but stay just short of that perjorative by ringing true. What made “Nothing Compares To You” such a hit was that tear she cried during the video. It’s a sad song (or, at least, a sad sounding song), and that tear was validation. O’Connor’s career has been largely in support of that tear–seeing her protest the Catholic church, and speak out about any atrocity she wants to has all proven what we believed from that video: this girl takes it seriously. She can sing the hell out of these songs because she believes them.
This might technically qualify her as crazy if she weren’t a celebrity. Since we know who she is, this makes her a serious artist, one with little tolerance for compromise. As Viv Savage says, without a stage to perform on Sinead might get a bit stupid and go crazy. As it is, she’s a one-hit wonder everyone knows with a fantastic singing voice.
More on the relationship with God: maybe this is how the song transcends being weird that a straight guy like me would enjoy it so much. The song really about a person who’s sick of being betrayed and depressed (I get that) and finding the one thing that makes her feel great (I’d love that). It’s not that she doesn’t want a mate; it’s that she only wants to be her own person, which is pretty much the whole of O’Connor’s career.
I’m an emotional listener when it comes to songs like this: if the music and singing sounds like triumph, then I feel triumphant, forgiving all betraying lyrics there might be. This song starts kind of down and bitter. Just by having “No” in there, I get the negativity and I don’t think I’m wrong. By the end, O’Connor has used this title to describe what she wants to be by way of defining what she never wants to be. I really get this. I struggle with what I want to accomplish, but I know exactly what I don’t want to do. This is because I’m a negative, suspicious person. I must have hope that there’s hope for people like me, and the musicality of “No Man’s” provides it. Around the 1:45 mark, we get the first truly joyous synergy of Sinead’s voice and the instruments, when she describes the one who “Never does me harm/Never treats me bad” (implying there have been others who HAVE treated her bad and done her harm). We get one more half-chorus until we return to the final beautiful chorus-mantra. The production kicks in strings and drums and becomes everything “Rent” wanted to be without the Broadway shmaltz. O’Connor could have described the song’s that way: “I don’t know what it is, but it’s not ‘Rent.’”