Thursday, August 19, 2010

August 19: Sinéad O'Connor, "Nothing Compares 2 U"

Artist: Sinéad O'Connor
Song: "Nothing Compares 2 U"
Album: I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got
Year: 1990

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (will open in new tab)

There are certain songs in the history of recorded music that were so huge in every meaning of the world, that they become just as, if not more memorable than the significant events of the era in which they were released.  Whether due to being so musically different, some type of controversy, or a host of other possibilities, it is these few songs that serve as the markers for the passage of time.  As has been stated many times before, there are few points in history that allowed for as wide a range of musical exploration whilst still achieving commercial success than one can see in the early years of the 1990's, and it is why this period stands as one of the most exciting in music history.  While there were a great number of artists that changed the landscape of music during these years, few did so as quickly and in a similar manner as one of the most influential, yet controversial performers in music history: Sinéad O'Connor.  Though she possesses what remains without question one of the most powerful voices in history, and one cannot deny how much impact she had on the influx of strong female performers that emerged early on in the decade, it is difficult to discuss Sinéad O'Connor without also speaking of the ripples she made due to both her image as well as her political views.  However, setting these aside, she is also responsible for one of the biggest songs of the entire decade, and music simply does not advance in the way it has without her stunning 1990 cover of Prince's "Nothing Compares 2 U."

While most know that the song was penned by Prince, few are aware that it was released by his short lived funk band, The Family in 1985.  This original recording was not released as a single, and nearly everything about the cover by Sinéad O'Connor is a great stylistic shift from the original.  Musically, the song is able to be both full and complex, while at the same time staying quite minimalist.  It is this odd juxtaposition that serves as an initial point of intrigue, as the music is provided by a small string section and a lone drum beat.  The slow pace of the song stands in opposition to nearly everything else being released at the time, and the combination of the tempo and the musical arrangement made it almost impossible to fathom that the song quickly topped the charts in more than a dozen different countries, and it stayed in the top spot for well over a month, instantly turning O'Connor into an international superstar.  However, one simply cannot deny the sheer beauty of the musical arrangement, as the string section seems to transcend the common moods of classical style musical backing, and create an almost overwhelming sense of sorrow.  Clearly, this tone could not have been created by a traditional rock-style orchestration, and though many have tried since, no artist has been able to achieve the odd musical perfection that one finds in the arrangement on "Nothing Compares 2 U."

However, throughout the song, both the string section and the percussion are kept at a rather low level, as the true focal point of the entire song is the unparalleled, breathtaking vocal performance of Sinéad O'Connor.  Though she had already shown her amazing abilities on her debut album a few years earlier, it was her singing on "Nothing Compares 2 U" that showed the world just how captivating and truly moving a singer she was.  Working the entire vocal scale throughout the song, O'Connor also plays two moods against one another, as she shows a sense of strength within the almost mournful lyrics she sings.  It is this aspect of "Nothing Compares 2 U" that would serve as the cornerstone of the movement of female singer-songwriters and performers that would explode over the following years, and one cannot understate the importance of Sinéad O'Connor to this movement.  Yet at the same time, one of the main reasons that "Nothing Compares 2 U" was so successful is the fact that Prince had written one of his finest lyrics, and O'Connor's cover proves the ambiguous nature of the words.  The lyrics show both sides of true heartbreak, as the protagonist is open about the severity of their loss, yet there remains a strong sense of "moving on" throughout the entire track.  In what remains one of the greatest lines ever written, one cannot avoid the almost overwhelming sense of sorrow within the words, "'s been so lonely without you here, like a bird without a song..."  At every turn, the lyrical brilliance of Prince fuses together with the extraordinary vocal power of O'Connor, and it is this reason that"Nothing Compares 2 U" remains one of the greatest songs ever recorded.

The true testament of the power of a song is how it sounds after many years and countless listenings have passed.  The fact of the matter is, more than twenty years after her cover of Prince's "Nothing Compares 2 U" first appeared, Sinéad O'Connor's voice and emotion are still able to move the listener just as easily and with the same power as it did when it was initially released.  This is largely due to the fact that O'Connor's voice remains one of the strongest to ever be heard, and the amount of emotion on each line is almost overwhelming.  There is an amazing sense of sincerity within her singing, and the fact that there is such minimal musical accompaniment only adds to the complete focus on her phenomenal vocal performance.  It is this feeling of a completely soul-bearing performance that sets "Nothing Compares 2 U" so far apart from its peers, as O'Connor could have easily broken into tears during the song and it would have been "passable," yet she never shows any sign of needing any aid to convey her deep emotions.  However, it is on "Nothing Compares 2 U" that O'Connor set the tone for the "new" image of the "strong woman" in music, as while the feeling of loss and sorrow pervades every turn of the song, one cannot deny the underlying sense of strength within her singing, and it is this aspect that has influenced countless artists since.  Though she went on to create a great deal of controversy, one cannot deny the fact that there were few songs in history that have singlehandedly shaped music and captivated the world in a similar manner as Sinéad O'Connor's unforgettable 1990 cover of Prince's, "Nothing Compares 2 U."

No comments: