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Classic Reviews: Sinéad O’Connor, Am I Not Your Girl?

Sinéad O'Connor
Irish singer Sinead O'Connor performs during an all-star tribute to the music of Bob Dylan on October 16, 1992 at Madison Square Garden. - The four-hour performance showcasd Dylan songs sung by an impressive group of musical stars. (Photo by Maria Bastone / AFP) (Photo credit should read MARIA BASTONE/AFP via Getty Images)

This article originally appeared in the November 1992 issue of SPIN.

In this scrapbook of standards, Sinéad O’Connor hits waif overload. This is not just music: This is her life and her blood. Even with the luxury of a fully appointed big band to bask in, O’Connor doesn’t exactly lighten up, kick back, and swing. Am I not your girl? isn’t the karaoke nightmare it might’ve been. There is suckage: “Secret Love” is crippled by its arrangement (it’s either Doris Day’s way or the highway), Tammy Wynette’s “Success Has Made a Failure of Our Home” is similarly suffocated by a Jimmy Webb-style floridity, and as for “I Want To Be Loved by You,” O’Connor was not put on this earth to sing “boo boo be doo,” in earnest or in irony.

Here’s what works: “How Insensitive” is an old Astrud Gilberto song well-served by O’Connor’s novocaine delivery. “Gloomy Sunday” is an unexpected choice, unless you’re an overwrought, self-obsessed perpetual adolescent; “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” is where O’Connor gets her torch props; a Rodgers and Hart song from the musical Pal Joey, it is meant to be sung by an older, experienced woman held in sexual thrall, and is a declaration of surrender both rueful and celebratory. Perfectly portraying the tune’s state of mind, O’Connor sings the song about as well as it’s ever been sung.

And just around the corner, greatness skulks. “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” may well be instrumental in ridding the singer of the excess fans “Nothing Compares 2 U” gained her, but it also may be her finest hour. Excising any recollections of the song’s original source, O’Connor makes it her anthem, the story of her struggle, her fight, her conflict. (What struggle? What fight? What conflict? Don’t break the mood.) The tears must have flowed like a monsoon when she got around to the second verse: “And as for fortune, and as for fame / I never invited them in, though it seemed to the world they were all I desired / They are illusions, they’re not the solutions they promise to be / The answer was here all the time, I love you and hope you love me.” No, I’m okay — just a little piece of grit in my eye.

Just in case there was any danger of anyone going home happy, O’Connor ends the set on a trio of downers. The old, learned-on-mammy’s-knee folk song, “Scarlet Ribbons,” is ponderously presented in a voice-and-Irish-pipes style. “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” is reprised in a pointless swing-time fashion, tarnishing the awesome effect of the first version. Finally, a spoken attack on the Holy Roman Empire (originally recorded by the Andrews Sisters, I believe) seals the casket on this one.