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Thank You for Hearing Me - Sinéad O'Connor

After her classic 1990 album "I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got", a cultural phenomenon and world-wide number one (see last three posts), O'Connor released an LP of jazz and show covers, the 1992 "Am I Not Your Girl?". Given the groundbreaking nature of her first two albums, the retrospective big band style of "Am I Not Your Girl?" lost O'Connor her musical momentum almost overnight, internationally, and she never got it back to the same degree. American sales couldn't have been helped with her controversial appearance on Saturday Night Live (see last post) and the album's promotional campaign. It sold indifferently everywhere except Ireland where, surprisingly perhaps, considering how many of their sacred cows she has demolished over the years, her popularity has never waned.

Artistically, however, O'Connor was back on track with her intensely personal 1994 offering "Universal Mother", a record strongly influenced by and comparable only to John Lennon's "John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band" of 1970 for soulsearching, soulbaring honesty. "Universal Mother" is an exploration of motherhood, in social, societal and personal terms beginning with a 38 second extract from feminist author and icon Germaine Greer in which she (Greer) says that while the patriarchal society should be replaced by a new society instigated by women, it shouldn't be a matriarchal society but rather a non-political structure based around fraternity ie universal co-operation. The non-matriarchal thing is immediately backed up by the next track, "Fire on Babylon", a diatribe against O'Connor's mother who mistreated her and her siblings. The rest of the album is an exploration of parenthood and its complexities, and love, its good and bad sides including the way in which it can give way to pain and abuse.

Two tracks are covers, one by fellow Irish singer songwriter Phil Coulter about his son, the other startlingly, by Kurt Cobain, who committed suicide just months before "Mother" was recorded. It feels edgily prescient, albeit 28 years later, from a woman who was to kill herself while suffering from depression bought on by the suicide of her son, .The overall message is, however, that love will win out, despite it all.

The plot of the recent excellent BBC tv series "The Woman in the Wall" revolves around the actions of a Irish obstetrician who regularly sold into adoption children born to single mothers or out of wedlock., via the notorious Magdalene Laundries, who, in turn, literally "laundered " their identities, falsifying death certificates, before the babies were passed over to childless couples in exchange for generous financial "donations" to the church.

The obstetrician is based upon the real Éamon de Valera Jnr. who, extraordinarily, oversaw the delivery of Sinéad O'Connor herself in 1966. And if the name Éamon de Valera seems familiar, it's because his namesake father was indeed the famous de Valera who was an Irish revolutionary leader in 1916 and later President of the new Republic. Sinéad was named after the obstetrician de Valera's mother.

Later, O'Connor, too, spent 18 months in a Magdalene Laundry when she was fifteen years old for repeated petty theft and public misbehaviour. O'Connor always claimed that it was her mother who first encouraged her to steal, urging her to pinch coins from the circulating collection plate at church. Which may explain why it took a whole album for O'Connor to get it out of her system.

Last up on "Universal Mother" is "Thank You for Hearing Me".

O'Connor is by turns angry, opinionated, happy, sad, loud and tender, but she often takes take the wind out of your sales with her charm, the beauty and humbleness of her music. Allegedly a song to Peter Gabriel who she had just broken up with, "Thank You for Hearing Me" is a liturgy that pulls together all the themes of the album, flowering into a paean of forgiveness to her mother, to her children, to her lovers, to us, the listeners to her music and the Irish who've never let her out of their hearts. Listening today, one cannot escape its deep sadness, its sense of valediction.

"The Woman in the Wall" was shown in August, just three months ago. Before she died, O'Connor gifted her song "The Magdalene Song", free, to the programme, to be used in the final episode.


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