The Emperor's New Clothes - Sinéad O'Connor
Perhaps the most famous of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales is "The Emperor's New Clothes", the story of a boy who has the courage to point out the hypocrisy of society en masse, where people submit to social pressure to accept lies rather than the truth, a theme that is always up-to-date, now, in the age of the Internet and Orwellian doublespeak, as ever before.
Rediscovering Sinéad O'Connor's 1990 album "I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got" is to rediscover the excitement of the first time listen, the drama, exuberance and passion of this wonderful record. You think O'Connor can't take it any higher, but with every successive song on this LP there's new excitement and a musical surprise.
Track 4, "The Emperor's New Clothes", has the vocal feel and edgy angst of sixties' girl group songs, the urgent expression of the insecurities and determination of a twenty-three year old/young woman. Like much of the album, this is a deeply personal statement of O'Connor's values and beliefs as well as a two finger gesture to the establishment sharks that are already circling around her.
Lauded since the success of 1987's "The Lion and the Cobra", Sinéad is already reacting against the constraints that fame would wish to impose on her, becoming notoriously outspoken about her beliefs, painfully honest and refusing to make the normal concessions to social norms expected of a star. In "The Emperor's New Clothes" nearly every line is loaded with explosive possible meanings from the word go, or in this case "it":
"It seems years since you held the baby while I wrecked the bedroom. You said it was dangerous after Sunday and I knew you loved me. He thinks I just became famous and that's what messed me up but he's wrong - how could I possibly know what I want when I was only twenty-one?...."
Bang she's off, intense and personal, who's she talking to - John Reynolds, ex-husband, father of her first child born in 1987 when she was only 21, and drummer on this track? - make no mistake, she's talking to us, the public, the subjects of Andersen's Emperor and two years later she's getting on top of it, seeing things how they are and making up her mind to be herself, honest to her beliefs no matter what:
"....There's millions of people to offer advice and say how I should be but they're twisted and they will never be any influence on me...."
- at times, painfully honest -
"....but you know how it is and how a pregnancy can change you.
I see plenty of clothes that I like but I won't go anywhere nice for a while...." - simultaneously, vulnerably confessional and bloody-mindedly honest, kicking against the pricks -
"… everyone can see what's going on: they laugh 'cause they know they're untouchable not because what I said was wrong...."
once again predicting her own penchant for courting controversy, yet making a clear declaration of how she will live:
"....Whatever it may bring I will live by my own policies I will sleep with a clear conscience I will sleep in peace...."
and, as she often does, predicting the future's exposure of institutional lies
"....you asked for the truth and I told you:
through their own words they will be exposed, they've got a severe case of the emperor's new clothes...."
which all adds up to the bloody heart of rock and roll. And, appropriately, a beat to live, rather than die, for. Terrific stuff!