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Review: Sinead O’Connor – Throw Down Your Arms

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For her first new album after a self-declared retirement, Sinead O’Connor has recorded an album of reggae covers with Sly and Robbie. Short version: This is a well made and quite listenable record, but it ain’t all that.

I will tend to discount my own regards for Sinead records a little bit, as I know that I’m kinda weird about her. She has a lot of significance to me as a psychic force, so maybe I’m not critical enough.

Given that, if she can’t get me all excited about a record, it can’t be that good. I’m enjoying this album pretty much, but it’s just not that particularly great. She’s a great singer, and the songs are expertly arranged and played by real reggae guys, but still.

The problem is that these songs are mostly just not that good. I’ve listened to the thing at least half a dozen times through, and I can individually remember anything significant about only three of these songs.

One of those I will discount: “War.” I remember this Bob Marley song because it was her career suicide note, the song that she performed as she was tearing up the picture of the pope on SNL. She obviously attaches great significance to it, but it’s just not much of a song in the critical MELODIC element.

“War” also has a trite lyric. It’s strident and childish and just not a very well-stated sentiment on an artistic level, regardless of the politics. Even if you agree with whatever exactly the politics are supposed to be, it’s just not a very interesting statement.

That puts a lot of the weight of this album on two songs that have some sticking power. Probably the best song on the album is “Curly Locks.” Considering that it’s ol’ hardcore Sinead O’Connor with real reggae guys, the whole album comes out feeling fairly light in style and tone- to good benefit. “Curly Locks” in particular sounds like pure pop.

The songs works as a whispered seduction, gently trying to lure away a young Jamaican boy against the wishes of his parents. This features probably the strongest and most memorable melody on the album, and the truest and most real emotion. Inevitably, all the Rasta lyrics are going to come out of Sinead as being somewhat of an affectation, whereas a simple love song lyric is more personally and universally true.

Still, the other really cool song here is “Vampire,” which is deep in Rastafarian mystique. “Obadiah, Obadiah- Jah Jah sent us here to catch vampire.” That key line makes a strong melodic hook specifically, and it also sets up some cool mythological sounding drama. It’s not quite enough to make me research these characters like a geek looking for a backstory, but it plays real interesting in the context of Sinead’s career against, for starters, the dragon slaying she wanted to do in “Troy” all the way back on her first album.

The whole album sounds really good, in a general way. They achieved a consistency of tone, a light touch that serves the material really well. Plus, Sinead dialed down like this gently invests a greater deal of passion than 99.9% of singers could achieve by belting away. She can do subtle. This album could be very instructive to aspiring singers.

But these songs just are not good. Sinead O’Connor is the singingest chick walking the Earth. If she can’t sell the song, then there probably wasn’t much of a song there to start with. Except for “Curly Locks” and “Vampire” these are simply not very memorable compositions, regardless of how famous or highly reputed or cool the original artists may be considered.

If you’re interested in the idea of Sinead singing reggae, start with the Collaborations album put out earlier this year. [REVIEW] It’s a compilation of songs recorded over a number of years, side projects and guest shots and stuff-mostly in the range of bass-heavy dub reggae. In theory, that sounds like a half-ass cash-in thing for completists, but in practice it’s got a considerably stronger set of songs, deeper emotional investment and more uniquely personal style. It’s a superior album to this on pretty much every level.

After that, if you’re still hungry for Sinead reggae, Throw Down Your Arms would be a pretty tasty follow-up.

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  • http://adversecity.blogspot.com Oran Kelley

    I’ve been listening to this one a couple of weeks, and I have to say that you comments are all well-observed.

    I’ll even go so far as to agree (to a point) about the triteness of a lot of reggae lyrics.

    But, I think that some of these songs are quite affecting in spite of their simplicity. The Burning Spear stuff–He Prayed, the title track, Marcus Garvey–has a lot more going for it than you seem to have registered.

    In the original recordings, these songs were just as simple–primal?–and that is exactly the affect that was being sought. That’s what made the Burning Spear recordings classic.

    O’Connor’s tales are hauntingly different, but she (quite bravely, I think) does little to augment the songs. She just sings them in the best simple way that she can.

    Anyhow, agreed on much of the observation, but I think reggae fans (and a lot of others) will differ with your evaluation.

    –eric

  • michael

    I’m a fan of reggae and I’m not hot on this album at all. The “real reggae guys” you barely mentioned are Sly & Robbie – two of the tightest drum & bass players who have worked with many legends in both reggae (Jimmy Cliff, U-Roy, Horace Andy, King Tubby, etc.) and pop (Grace Jones, Joe Cocker, Bob Dylan, Serge Gainsbourg, No Doubt, etc.).

    As for the triteness of the lyrics – read a bit about Jamaican history and maybe you’ll begin to understand that these are songs about freedom from poverty, violence, slavery, etc. You might think they’re trite now but when these songs came out not every white college boy was “chillin’ with Marley”. Reggae is actually one of the most to-the-point forms of music I’ve ever heard. Metaphors for corrupt politicians, label managers, etc. are thinly veiled as they wanted to make sure people knew they were being called out.

    But I digress. What annoys me about this release is actually Sinéad. Her voice is just not suited for the songs nor does her delivery every really settle into the songs. She seems to just be covering the songs – or maybe hovering somewhere above them. I’m sure she loves raggae but her attempt to sing these songs is much like the frat boy I mentioned earlier. I find her voice and delivery works best when she’s got some backing singers who help blend her voice into the songs. The harmonizing is quite nice and it’s the only time I can really stand to hear her voice in these tunes. Just something about her voice that is cold and flat compared to the originals (and the back-up singers). The trademark wail/warble that made her early songs stand out just raises my hackles on “Throw Down Your Arms”. All-in-all it’s a valiant attempt but if you’re looking for a good reggae album this isn’t it. As for a decent Sinéad O’Connor album – well I guess she had to wake up her fans some way. I’m sure it will be a hit in college dorms across America.

  • nic

    Get a clue, do your homework, and then maybe youll see why you should be embarrassed for yourself and your evaluation. You have a right to your opinion, true, but get informed before forming it. More of what you said can be seen as purely insulting rather than just opinion or informative. Try hearing and learning- THINKING- and maybe then youll get it. Its not just music. Just go ask any “real reggae guy”. Peace be with you.

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    Nic, I don’t particularly mind your condescending, unsubstantiated and unjustified snarking, but you can stick that fake empathy of “peace be with you” in ya ass.

    Thanks.

  • nic

    And one more thing- so what if her voice doesnt do the songs justice, so what if as a whole the album isnt as great as orginals (covers usually arent)or that its not a good reggae/ sinead album- which Id argue to an extent- but hello people?… ugh- its more about the message………. c’mon…….. get with it. Why do you think she made this album? Think about this one word and its meaning: Rastafari.

  • nic

    Oh Al- if you spent even half as much time researching and substantiating your own ignorant opinions as you did retaliating here, then your argument might have some validity. You clearly dont know the subject, which is why you are so defensive. Typical youd call me fake- you seem to like to speak about things you dont really know about. You have no foundation for evaluating me as such. With all this hostility I can see why you didnt get the message. And seriously, I mean it- PEACE BE WITH YOU-for you are one of those who needs it most. Im not saying we all have to agree with each other- just dont be a jack ass when youre presenting your side. Once again- PEACE…. LOL- and sweet dreams too.

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    Nic, I’ve seen absolutely nothing from you to give me any reason to think that you know jack squat to be speaking in a disrespectful manner to me as you have. Do please, however, show me up. Write us an extended essay like this explaining what I’m missing. One thing for starters, it takes more than just invoking the word “Rastafarian” to make something a deep and meaningful work of art.

    Plus, you still need to work on your reading comprehension skills. If you read attentively, my complaint is not that Sinead’s voice does not do justice to the songs, but that the songs do not do justice to the voice.

    Sinead is the singingest bitch walking the Earth, but these are not as good as a lot of the songs she’s written for herself. As a composition, for example, there’s nothing here in a league with “Troy” or “Drink Before the War.”

    The “fake” I’m talking about was the invocation of “peace” like you were showing some empathy or goodwill, when in fact the point of your comments was mostly simply to insult me. Again, insult me good and hard- but then don’t be pretending to be nice when you’re doing it.

  • nic

    Al- why would I do you, of all people, the service of explaining stuff you shoudve already known? Additionally, my comments werent made 100% in regards to your bs. All Im saying is you did a poor job explaining your opinion, and you were the one who was rather insulting from the start. Get over yourself and forget about responding. Youd rather argue than be positive or take a critical remark. Im not pretending to be nice. No shit- Im not being nice. My wishing peace to you is for a reason- yet again another concept you dont get. Im not into pathetic online wars bro… PEACE!!!

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    Nic, I’m not asking for your comments so much as a service to me, as nothing you’ve written so far has suggested that you actually have any insights or understandings to share, but merely wish to posture and insult.

    I’m suggesting that you write some actual organized comments about the content of the Sinead album as a way of possibly salvaging your presentation. As it is, you just look like another anonymous punk ass internet bitch that can’t back up their cheap claims of superiority.

    The only thing that would change that public perception of you would be to actually produce- to come up with commentary and explanation of the album better and more insightful than mine. Good luck.

  • Dan

    I just got done listening to the album. I’m surprised I didn’t fall asleep considering how boring the album was. Seriously they probabaly recorded this in one day. It sounds like it, for it has no real power. I’ve never been much for reggae. Yeah music of hope & freedom for the people is nice but it isn’t my cup of tea. People are victims of their own doing. I’ll save this album for the pot smokers at my college, and i’ll go about listening to the only good Sinead album. Her first, “Lion and the cobra” the only one that holds true infinite power.

    “Find the lucifer within”

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    Woo, doggies there Dan. I think you’re perhaps a bit harsh on this new album. She certainly did put some care into making it, even if it didn’t come out quite as good as I might have hoped.

    I will happily second you though on the “true infinite power” of The Lion and the Cobra. That’s as good an album as has ever been made in the whole broad rock music tradition.

  • Sinead Boy

    I love Sinead’s new CD. The best songs are the title track, “Curly Locks”, and my very favorite, “Downpressor Man”.

    It’s a nice change of pace for Sinead. I also loved “Collaborations” and perhaps her all-time best CD, “Faith and Courage”. I’ll see her in concert on December 6, a long-time dream come true.

  • sean

    Utter shite – plain and simple

  • http://hccnet.nl Martin

    The songs are not the problem, the “singer” is. I’ have never heard such a bad and uninspired “interpretation” of classic reggaesongs. Sinnead should take her psych med AFTER singing and not BEFORE, may be that could help. She demonstrates that some kind of religious mania is not enough to bring something of quality. Please listen to the original songs: what a difference…!

  • Dave Tabor

    I just wanna know WTF the creative decision was to put a modem carrier sound behind Jah Nuh Dead, track one….

  • ras

    Sometimes music is made for certain people to enjoy. Country music covers would not do well even if snoop dogg did it. All music is trite to a point. And depending on who you are and where you come from will influence what music you like and dislike. Reggae music is for Africans in disporia. This is not to say reggae music is not for non-Africans, but at the root of reggae music is the root. I listened to Willie Nelson do a entire reggae album that came out this year and most of it is really bad, but I admired his effort and his love for the music. Just like O’connor, I admire her for having the balls to put out an album that might play against her strengths, but shows how much she loves this kind of music. Mr. Nelson and Sinead will not put out any more reggae albums, but you should look at it as a side project and just enjoy the ride. Don’t hate, just because you don’t like or understand different types of music you might not listen to all the time, but understand as a artist, you should be able to spread your wings and not be stuck under the box of western music. peace and love..ras b.

  • vibes

    i saw Sinead at the Kook Haus in Toronto yesterday. it was a good concert but i’d by lying if i said i enjoyed it as much as the other times i’ve seen her live. i don’t mind her new reggae style but i think she could perhaps put a reggae bend on some of her original work. It’s great to see that she has found her calling in reggae but as a concert goer, it’s hard to derive the same level of satisfaction when hearing Sinead perform a whole concert of songs who’s lyrics she did not write. i’m a huge Sinead fan but will wait until she performs her own original music again i see her live again.

  • cydney

    i’m dancing to “jah nuh dead” && i was wondering if anybody could explain to me exactly what it means…is there a concrete meaning to the words “juh nuh dead” or do they stand for something? thanks a bunch :]

  • ogun

    The difference between me and most of the writers on this blog is that I am not a Sinead O’Connor fan. I am a reggae fan. What most of you do not know is that her choice of songs is excellent. It took me a minute to relate to he singing style. But as soon as my ears adjusted, I found it to be a great album. Curly Locks of o.k., but the fact that she did “The Prophet has Arised” is commendable. It is obvious that she too is a big fan, of some of the not-so-american-pop reggae.

    If you love reggae, and not just college-boy “Legend” music, you will appreciate this album. The fact that Sly and Robbie were behind her gives her legitamacy to anyone who really knows. This is a good album. (Though I wonder why she cut out half of the lyrics of Downpressor Man?)

    To Cydney – Jah Nuh Dead is about Haile Selassie, King of Ethiopia in the 40’s. No time to go into the history, but his original name before he was crowned was Ras Tafari. He was concidered a sign because he saved Ethiopia from colonialization and was an international figure during the war. Plus, his family claims decendance from King David and Solomon. The song is about when he died and the many enemies of the Rastafari movement persecuted them with chants of “Your god is dead”.

  • http://coffeeyogurt.blogspot.com/ phd in yogurtry

    Throw Down Your Arms is one of my all time favorite CDs. It might be the first Sinead album I’ve ever bought, and I love folksy female singer-songwriters. She has such an incredible interpretive style and I love reggae and this CD is amazingly good, to my listening ears. Proving once again, musical beauty is in the ear of the listener.

  • Watson

    This review is embarrassing !! .. Poorly informed and lacking perspective. And I just can’t believe the ridiculous misinformation and nonsense in some of these comments too, to be perfectly honest. It’s one thing to have absolutely no clue about someone else’s culture.. But then why speak as if you know?? Smh…

  • http://www.morethings.com/wordpress Al Barger

    My dear Watson: Beyond a couple of adjectives, could you please help educate a dumb hillbilly by perhaps elucidating in exactly what ways my story is “poorly informed and lacking perspective.”

    Thank you.