Singer Sinead O’Connor, who once inflamed Catholic sensibilities when she ripped up a picture of Pope John Paul II, hopes a new batch of psalm-based songs will cast off the brash, shaven-headed image accorded her 20 years ago.
“Theology,” her new album to be released next month, turns Old Testament psalms into songs that she delivers with the same powerful voice and signature sound that made her instantly recognizable after her major 1990 hit “Nothing Compares 2 U.”
“In the music industry a lot of people are feeding on you, on your creativity. I want to do something that nurtures me,” she said in an interview.
At 40, the cropped brown hair — albeit with flecks of gray — is still there, but the confrontational stance that saw her tear up the pontiff’s photograph on live television in 1992, seems to have been replaced by a mellow persona.
She said she has been contemplating this album since she was a child growing up in Ireland — a country she calls a “theocracy.”
“I love the spirituality of it,” she said of the double CD — the acoustic “Dublin sessions” on one side, the “London Sessions” with full electrified arrangements on the other.
“I wanted it to be on the right side of the line between corny and cool. When it comes to religious music there is a very fine line between cool and very uncool,” O’Connor said.
“It deliberately deals with the Old Testament. If you start writing songs about the New Testament, you’re doomed no matter how you say it, people have such a prejudice about it.”
“If you start writing songs about Jesus you know no one is gonna listen to you. Obviously, I do believe in Jesus, but I am not stupid,” said the woman who caused an uproar in her native country when she became a priest in 1999 at a ceremony staged in Lourdes by a breakaway Catholic group.
She indicated then that she wished to be referred to in the music industry Mother Bernadette Mary. Eight years later, at the posh Paris hotel where she meets the media, there is no sign of the nun in the shy, courteous woman dressed in baggy clothes.
A gentler selfO’Connor thinks the new album could change her life.
A mother of four from four different fathers — giving birth to her youngest son last December — she confesses that ”ideally I’d love to be able to have a job that did not require me to leave home for more than a couple of days at a time.”
“Whatever happens around this record will dictate what I go on to do somehow,” she said. “I have a feeling that this record is gonna open up an arena creatively speaking that would not have existed before.”
She muses that she might want to do a record of Gregorian chants, “kids songs at some point” or arias opera songs. “You know, sung in a normal voice with just like a guitar, a punk version of opera songs, like the Sex Pistols go to the opera.”
O’Connor, who lives with her family in a large Victorian house overlooking the sea on the outskirts of Dublin, is sure of one thing: she won’t return to the traditional music business.
“I’d like to switch arenas ... In America they call it inspirational, I guess religious/spiritual/inspirational, that’s the arena I’d like to work in ... writing tunes for choirs, that kind of stuff.
“That suits me better than rock and pop, where I was a bit of a square peg in a round hole ... I don’t really want to grow my hair, dye it blond, get a boob job.”
“I am forty years of age, I’d rather have some control over how the next 40 years go. Part of the objective in making the record, I’m trying to open up a whole new place for myself which would be gentler on me, which then allows me to be gentle.”