Monday, April 16, 2012

Sinead O'Connor: How About I Be Me & You Be You (review)

Sinead O'Connor -
"How About I Be Me and You Be You"
(One Little Indian/Shock)

Sinead O’Connor came out fighting on her 1987 debut, The Lion & The Cobra, and 25 years on, she still sounds like that girl with fire in her soul and a foot looking for an arse to kick on How About I Be Me And You Be You. Yes, anger has continually infiltrated her work, be it directed at her parents, the opposite sex or the Catholic church, but during the last 25 years, we have also come to know Sinead as a highly contrary artist. One thing that is a constant however, is her dissatisfaction with the status quo. Confusing and confounding fans and critics alike, in the last decade Sinead came out as a lesbian before being ordained as a priest and later rejected both lifestyles when she become engaged to Australian musician, Steve Cooney. No sooner had she announced she would be ‘settling down’, news came through of a quick divorce from Cooney and a further marriage to a man she met online followed. It’s these recent developments in Sinead’s life that forms the basis of How I About I Be Me
The album’s title – a re-writing of the traditional marriage vows - and its content deals directly with O’Connor’s brushes with matrimony – her recent wedding to Barry Herridge lasted only 17 days – and the institution itself. As far as wedding albums go, there is little romantic merit in O’Connor’s words, as to be expected, but rather she challenges the suitor to forget the fairytale (and the Catholic church) idea of marriage. On the first single The Wolf Is Getting Married, Sinead owns the public’s image of her as an unstable - even lamentable - woman of contradictions.  Firstly, she decides marriage will bring her unending happiness and keep away the ‘wolves’ – an animal, in literary terms, sometimes associated with depressive syndromes. The question that the song raises however, is how serious is she? At any given moment the listener could expect to be slapped in the face with a renouncement of all this new-found comfort.

The track 4th and Vine further reinforces O’Connor’s belief that matrimony holds the key to her satisfaction, and is nothing short of a re-telling of The Dixie Cups’ saccharine 1964 hit, Chapel Of Love, yet considering the singer’s recent past, a sarcastic subtext can’t be ignored.  The album takes a sudden and more familiar turn on Take Off Your Shoes, where Sinead is all ‘blood of Jesus’ and ‘hallowed ground’, while V.I.P. is good old fashioned theology in verse. Musically, her later releases veered into reggae which is reprised here. The mostly mid-tempo pace and acoustic instrumentation allows the narrative to take the lead, keeping with Sinead’s folk singer styling and the tradition of reggae’s ‘songs of rebellion’. The album overall is a fantastic observation and summary of O’Connor’s often difficult to relate to personal life and favourite subject matter. She offers an even sharper perspective than on many former revelatory releases, and is still one of the most brutally honest song-writers around - “I was always crazy”; she growls on If I Had A Baby. O’Connor is at her best when she flaunts what most of us would be happy to deny. How About I Be Me And You Be You is a purposeful blurring of the singer’s wishful thinking and the stark reality of her inability to settle down and play house. Perhaps she feels such a compromise would be mean disconnecting from her muse, and so within the safety of music, she has dared to go where she just can’t seem to in life.


 "The Wolf Is Getting Married" official video.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Pogues: live in Melbourne, 2012 (review)

Venue: Festival Hall
Date: 04/04

If there’s one holiday Australian’s truly get behind with gusto, it’s the celebration of St Patrick’s Day, and so having Celtic punk legends The Pogues in town was excuse enough for a mini-reprise of the festivities. Oversized green leprechaun hats, Irish sport shirts, endless shamrocks and the guff of whiskey breath fills Festival hall, along with the general rowdiness of your local watering hole near closing time.
Being a Pogues gig – their first in Australia for 22 years – mass alcohol consumption is a given. The only question yet to be answered is who will be the most pissed; the fans or the band’s renowned lead singer, Shane MacGowan. Pogues concerts have never adopted the official warning; ‘show may conclude early depending on Shane’s ability to remain standing’, yet it is a real possibility as their touring history will support. Tonight we are treated firstly to the original eight-piece line-up who take to the stage as the sound of The Clash’s Straight To Hell fades over the PA, and finally an unhurried, slightly wobbly MacGowan, who emerges to a welcoming roar.
Before a note of music is even played, the man who has done nothing to remove the stereotype of the Irish drunk, is shouting erratically into his mic. “I can’t fuckin’ believe ish been twenny two fuckin’ yearsh, Melbourne….” He says, followed by some indecipherable mumbling, and finally, “Sorry about all the fuckin’ swearing.” He takes a defiant drag from a cigarette and grins broadly, revealing what little remains of his front teeth as the band burst into life with Streams Of Whiskey. In those 22 years, The Pogues have gone through many changes before arriving here on what is their retirement tour. MacGowan was booted out for his out-of-control behavior, and the band recorded one album without him - which remains their last studio set – before going into hibernation. No new music means of course tonight is all golden-era Pogues anthems, pulled mainly from Rum, Sodomy & The Lash and If I Should Fall From Grace With God.
Despite the ever popular Dirty Old Town and the rousing Fiesta, Australian fans are clearly in favour of The Band Played Waltzing Matilda, and begin calling for it not three songs into the set. Shane introduces the boozy sing-a-long classic, but nobody seems sure what he’s actually saying in regards to it, and nor do we care. The chance to link arms with total strangers and sway to its waltzy tempo, shouting the refrain is all that matters now. If you’re not among the great heaving all-in sway, then you’re one of the brave bastards at the front, dodging crowd surfers and angrily moshing, or avoiding the projectile spit drops leaping from MacGowan’s ravaged mouth. The momentum changes dramatically though as Shane suddenly leaves the stage, hurling the microphone onto the floor, leaving more than a few of us wondering, ‘is that it?’.
To be fair to MacGowan, he seems to be working hard on stage tonight and is as coherent as can be expected, but a brief exchange between himself and tin-whistle player (and one-time lead-singer) Spider Stacey, ends abruptly. The fray, it turns out was all bluff, yet the show reaches a turning point here. Spider Stacey reprises his one-time role as band leader for Tuesday Morning – the best non-MacGowan Pogues song – and the crowd, perhaps still wondering if Shane’s done a bunk, respond with folded arms. Personally, I love Tuesday Morning, and being the only person shouting his approval and pogoing around - I suddenly feel quite lonely in the packed venue. Thankfully, for the sake of recapturing the all-in atmosphere, MacGowan re-emerges - only this time he’s packing booze. Swigging from a bottle of red – most of which goes down his shirt, on the floor - and on the front row - he receives a bigger applause than his first appearance. It’s as though he’s suddenly complete in people’s eyes. The dribbling and shouting Shane is here at last but it’s hard to ignore the whole pantomime element to the sight. I guess some things are just too intertwined; Iggy Pop wouldn’t dare go on stage in a shirt, just as Pogues fans expect to see a certain amount of drunkenness for their dollar.
The playing-up-to-his-image thing is fine, but what surprises me is MacGowan is determined to make the songs sound good and is less concern with getting so smashed, that he sacrifice’s the ability to perform. It’s a big step for the man in my eyes, but maybe a let down for some here who perhaps were looking forward to a good first-hand Shane MacGowan crash and burn story, like what happened in the old days of the band. They’ve all learned a few lessons no doubt, but The Pogues still put on the best rabble at an age where many ‘former-greats’ are cranking out piss-weak covers album or flogging Time Life CD compilations on TV. The sight of a greying accordionist performing a stage-length knee-slide and a banjo being thrashed in the fashion of electric guitar still somehow suits this band of merry makers. It’s as though through playing Celtic-punk, they earn a golden pass to act anyway they please at whatever age. Besides, the encore consisting of Sally MacLennane, Rainy Night In Soho and Fiesta might well be one of the finest ever seen at Festival hall.



Streams Of Whiskey
If I Should Fall From Grace With God
Broad Majestic Shannon
Greenland Whale Fisheries
A Pair Of Brown Eyes
Tuesday Morning
Sunny Side Of The Street
Repeal of the Licensing Laws
The Band Played Waltzing Matilda
The Body Of An American
The Boys From County Hell
Thousands Are Sailing
Dirty Old Town
Bottle Of Smoke
Sickbed of Cuchulain
Sally MacLennane
A Rainy Night In Soho
The Irish Rover
Poor Paddy On The Railway