With more and more years between proper studio albums as time goes on, often confrontational Irish pop powerhouse Sinéad O'Connor's decades-spanning career becomes less about her music and more about Sinéad as an institution, political figurehead, worn punch line, or in the worst cases a caricature of herself. With her ninth studio album, How About I Be Me (And You Be You)?, O'Connor smacks the focus back onto her powerful voice and uncanny ability to weave sadly gorgeous narratives into catchy pop songs. That's not to say a generous smattering of all the things that have made O'Connor a controversial character over the years are not touched on over the course of the record. Familiar subjects like sexuality and religion, and their conflicts with international politics, show up on songs like "V.I.P.," a beautifully delivered hymn addressing child abuse in Ireland's Catholic school system. The heartbreaking "Reason with Me" opens with O'Connor in the character of a junkie thief, singing "Hello/You don't know me but I stole your laptop and I took your TV/I sold your grammy's rosary for 50p." This crushing song laments wrong turns in life, with the narrator repeating "It's not too late" in a tone that only says he know it's far too late for him. While heartbreaking beauty is standard in O'Connor's sound, what's surprising on How About I Be Me is the number of lovestruck and optimistic songs. The naked confessional of "Old Lady" finds earnest pining for a so-soon-to-be-love. O'Connor goes over the mental acrobatics of being willfully unkind to her crush, because even if she were to show him a smile, everyone would know how bad she had it for him. Set to an upbeat, melodic pop curtain as strong as any of her '90s hits, this song resonates with the genuine raw emotion that O'Connor made her name on. Other highlights like "The Wolf Is Getting Married" and "I Had a Baby" are more of the same brutally bare sentiments over contagious hooks. The climate inside Sinéad's head is just as tumultuous as ever, but the resultant beauty and electric rage have culminated in an album as raw and open as anything she's produced in years. How About I Be Me (And You Be You)? is a delicately balanced picture of despair and hope, and a fantastic reminder of the musical gifts that made O'Connor important to begin with.
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AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas