SINEAD O'CONNOR, "THROW DOWN YOUR ARMS" (THAT'S WHY THERE'S
CHOCOLATE AND VANILLA) *** 1/2
SINEAD O'CONNOR, "COLLABORATIONS" (CAPITOL) ***
Earlier this year, controversy-plagued Irish singer Sinead O'Connor
announced that she'd be retiring from music, which would have been an
irreplaceable loss: For all of her troubles over the last 15 years, she
remains one of the most powerful voices in popular music. Now she has
returned with a promise to concentrate on "spiritual music," which she
defines on her welcome self-released comeback as reggae, produced by two
masters of the genre, Sly and Robbie.
This may seem like an odd move to some, but it won't come as a surprise
to O'Connor's still considerable hard-core following: Generally overlooked
in the pillorying the artist received in 1992 after her infamous
pope-bashing appearance on "Saturday Night Live" was the fact that she had
torn up a picture of John Paul II after performing "War," a song popularized
by Bob Marley, and that on her then-current "Am I Not Your Girl?," she had
included a hidden track paraphrasing the teachings of the Rastafarian
religion, which criticizes the Catholic Church for oppressing minorities.
(Jamaicans believe the Church condoned the slave trade; O'Connor is of the
opinion that it treats women like slaves.)
O'Connor reprises "War" as the last of a dozen powerful reggae covers
here, which also include Lee "Scratch" Perry's anti-imperialist anthem
"Vampire" and Peter Tosh's "Downpressor Man," making "Throw Down Your Arms"
as much of a fiery political statement in support of the downtrodden Third
World as it is an inspiring commentary on the power of faith. ("He will
take us by the hand / And lead us to the wonder land / If we can't be good,
we'll be careful / And do the best we can," she sings in "Y Mas Gan.")
Though she makes no attempt to mask her Irish accent or hide the fact
that her roots lay in a completely different culture, O'Connor's bell-like
soprano and passionate delivery allow her to claim these reggae jams as her
own as thoroughly as she claimed the traditional Irish folk songs on her
last covers album, "Sean-Nos Nua" (2002). Meanwhile, the Riddim Twins Sly
and Robbie wisely keep the arrangements and slinky grooves stripped down and
simple, the better to maintain the spotlight on that voice.
Meanwhile, O'Connor's old label Capitol provides further evidence of the
singer's ability to adapt to almost any genre with "Collaborations," a
17-track compilation full of rarities and unexpected treats released last
summer. The big names here may hold the most allure for many listeners --
included are "Blood of Eden," O'Connor's moving duet with Peter Gabriel;
"I'm Not Your Baby," which she crafted with fellow Irishmen U2, and "Harbour,"
a track produced by Moby -- but the real winners are strange but nonetheless
effective experiments with the likes of Massive Attack, Jah Wobble and Afro
THE GO! TEAM, "THUNDER, LIGHTNING, STRIKE" (COLUMBIA) *** 1/2
Performing at the Intonation Music Festival last summer, the Mercury
Prize-nominated English dance-pop sextet the Go! Team stole the show and
provided the highlight of that inspiring event when its MC, cheerleader and
lead vocalist Ninja pulled a group of young African-American kids from the
neighborhood onstage and they all pogoed and boogied frantically as the
group churned out its irresistible mix of dance rhythms, hip-hop flavorings
and rock 'n' roll energy.
Laced with well-chosen samples, heavy on the funky R&B horns, the band's
debut was first issued in the U.K. last year, but is only now getting its
official American release in slightly reworked form, with several tracks
remixed to remove samples that hadn't been cleared and two additional songs
added to the original.
It remains an effervescent and positively giddy high-energy joy,
cheerfully blurring genre boundaries (not for nothing has the band garnered
comparisons to everyone from the Jackson Five to Sonic Youth) to arrive at a
unique and wonderful mix on unforgettable grooves such as "Panther Dash," "Feelgood
by Numbers" and "Air Raid Guitar."