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Sinead's fire
more like a spark on Theology

Sinead's fire
more like a spark on Theology


Sinead bravely tackles hymns on Theology, but we miss the pope-ripping pop princess of the early '90s.

Sinead O'Connor's recently mellowed music could sway you--or rather, deceive you.The singer's post-millennial work, flickering with Irish standards and easygoing reggae, performs the dubious task of coercing listeners to forget she was the most provocative one (Billboard) hit wonder of all time. That's a shame.

Granted, O'Connor's newfound temperance may very well be a miracle in light of some well-publicized, drastic lifestyle shifts in the past few years. (She was "retired," "a lesbian," and an independent Catholic priest, and then none of those.) However, in finding stability, O'Connor forfeited much of her poetic bluntness and brass. The woman who once intertwined a James Brown drumbeat, Celtic melodies, and macabre death-ballad lyrics in "I Am Stretched on Your Grave" from her killer album I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got now opts for the simplicity of compartmentalized genres. Her new work, Theology, released June 26, finds a new niche--the hymnal--and stays there for the bulk of its 90 minutes.

Theology is a work by an artist who's so over mainstream acceptance that she indulges a single creative impulse for almost an entire double-album without flinching. Audiences that considered the pop pain of "Nothing Compares 2 U" O'Connor's peak will have no patience with Theology.

Both discs contain mostly the same song titles, but the first disc features the acoustic, quieter Dublin Sessions, while the second disc adds instrumentation and some much-needed momentum with its London sessions. This means there are two chances to hear "Something Beautiful," a pretty tune treated as a fragile ode on disc one and a swelling triumph on disc two, and "Rivers of Babylon," a gentle epic that chirps in its first incarnation and proclaims in its second.

Most other dual versions, like the rambling "Watcher of Men" and simply uneventful "Out of the Depths," aren't as moving. But even if they were, the slow float-trip through so much repetitive material is a daunting one. And that's not to say spirits and salvation don't work as creative impetuses theoretically--but on a record where 16 tracks are fully derived from the Old Testament, the listener grasps the big picture from the album's onset. O'Connor's always been fond of Biblical references, even back to her debut album, 1987's The Lion and the Cobra, but this time it's all-out plagiarism. Witness both versions of "Psalm 33," "If You Had a Vineyard," and "Whomsoever Dwells" (a throwback to her double-album of b-sides and live material She Who Dwells...), which all pack a stigmata's worth of fervor but blend into a forgettable wash, thanks to unvaried production and sheer length.

Of course, even a prayer-a-thon like Theology is entitled to its disarming exceptions. Recalling her refined treatment of the Evita landmark "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina" from the early '90s, O'Connor tackles Jesus Christ Superstar's "I Don't Know How to Love Him," and she surges with theatricality worthy of stately applause from Tim Rice. The whispery version of her hero Curtis Mayfield's "We the People Who Are Darker Than Blue" never quite leaves the gate, but it also presents a welcome off-road excursion from the album's tired trajectory.

As expected, Sinead O'Connor's sincerity is never in question throughout Theology, and honestly that's what she's concerned with promoting. What isn't evident remains the effort to extend that sincerity to someplace challenging, provocative, or buried within surface readings of preexistent text. O'Connor has demonstrated time and again she's a self-possessed--or possessed, depending on your analysis--artist with the gall to make a perfect mess of a conventional vocal showcase. But on Theology, the only thing perfected is the music's fit to a genre. That said, Theology churns with enough hymnal serenity to sway you into remembering O'Connor's earnestness, but it won't reignite your memory of her once-blazing passion--or sadly, even give you much reason for a second listen.

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