By David Werther.
Sinead O'Connor, Theology (Koch Records, 2007)
Theology is a two CD set. The Dublin sessions are acoustic versions of eleven songs, followed by a Hosanna; the London sessions are full instrumental versions of the songs contained in the Dublin sessions in virtually the same sequence. Most of the songs are rooted in Old Testament scriptures, though the second song on each CD is Curtis Mayfield's "We People Who are Darker Than Blue," and the London sessions include O'Connor's rendition of "I Don't Know How to Love Him" from Jesus Christ Superstar.
O'Connor had originally intended only an acoustic version. However, Ron Tom, the producer of the London sessions, expressed an interest to work with Sinead. When she played some of the songs she had begun to work on in Dublin, Tom pleaded to record them. And so Sinead recorded two versions of the songs without the folks in Dublin and London being aware of the others' work. Both sessions are very strong; Koch Records is generous to offer them together at approximately the same price as a single CD.
Each CD begins with O'Connor's "Something Beautiful." When I heard the beginning of the Dublin version, I cringed, as there is a praise-chorus quality to the initial lyrics and instrumentation. However, the song gets increasingly powerful and meaningful as it progresses, and when Sinead shifts from her devotional language to the words of Jeremiah, the song is transformed. Sinead begins the song with "I wanna make, Something Beautiful, For U and from U, To show U, To show U, I adore U," which is then answered by God in words from Jeremiah, "They dress the wounds of my poor people, as though they're nothing," ending with God asking, "Who'll dress their wounds? Who'll dress their wounds?"
The songs are so rooted in Scripture that one might wonder about the appropriateness of the title, Theology. But, of course, Sinead's choices of Scripture are reflections of her theology, her attempt to dress the wounds of God's people. Here are some of the relevant biblical contexts:
"Something Beautiful": Jeremiah 1 and 6
"Out of the Depths": Psalm 130
"Dark I Am Yet Lovely": Song of Solomon 1 and 8
"If You Had a Vineyard": Isaiah 5 and 9
"33": Psalm 33
"Watcher of Men": Job 3, 7, 19, and 42
"Glory of Jah": 1 Samuel 2 and Psalm 104
"Whomsoever Dwells": Psalm 91
"Rivers of Babylon": Psalm 130
Sinead allows herself some poetic license with the biblical texts. In the case of "33," for example, she sings:
Sing oh U righteous to the Lord
It's right that the upright should acclaim him
Sing to Jah with your guitar
Turn up yer bass amp
Whack it all the way up to 'save him'
At the moment I prefer the stark beauty of the Dublin sessions to the fuller London recordings, but I'm looking forward to spending more time with both CDs. As I do so, and reflect upon O'Connor's sequencing of Scripture and poetic license, my assessment of her work may change. At this stage, however, I am still "whacking it all the way up."