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Stunning, but certain to be misunderstood...which means its GRAND
on 28 June 2007
O'Connor is doing here much what she did on her seminal "I Do Not Want" from 1990, particularly with the classic "I Am Stretched On Your Grave" : she's taking ancient (and oft-forgotten) poetry and cleverly adapting it to contemporary sensibilities with a HUGE dose of reverence. Some reviewers have moaned about "lack of melody," but I wonder if these people realize that she is adapting the Psalms, which have been liturgical chant for centuries.
Let's face it: Sting's new medieval disc is not "melodic" in the modern pop sense at all, but HE gets kudos when O'Connor is singing far more ancient, far more substantial material and adapting it with careful reverence?
Formulaic "pop-tart melody" is not applicable to this kind of structure. The songs require reverence, care, and faithfulness to the source-material. Gregorian chant doesn't have "melody" in the watered-down contemporary sense, but it's still astonishingly beautiful music.
Moreover, O'Connor delivers the Psalms with PLENTY of melodic lilt and just enough experimentation here--without divorcing herself from the power contained in the source material. Her voice is better than ever, like the proverbial fine wine, with so much gravitas and emotion. The purity of tone is unquestionable. The melodic settings she has created for these songs soar and uplift the way a truly proper treatment of ancient spiritual anthems SHOULD.
I wonder whether much bias against this record is really foucused upon an automatic dismissal of spiritual music, in and of itself. Disc One is raw and strictly acoustic as O'Connor presents these "psalms" as emotional chants, if you will. The effect is not lessened because they do not have formulaic "pop" melodies. On the contrary, the stay-true-to-the-source (or nature of the source) approach makes her effort all the more stunning. Beautiful, beautiful music--full of meaning (for those inclined to "listen") and sonically beyond reproach.
The same songs on Disc 2 are presented with driving pop/rock gusto, while remaining equally true to the non-formulaic presentation of this sort of material. Some have complained about the arrangements on Disc 2, but the arrangements are hardly improper. Electric guitars, horns, strings, percussion--all are at the service of the songs in a majestic way, and form "beds" for the songs in a refreshingly free-spirited, melismatic fashion that I think is perfect for this kind of musical offering. What a disservice to the producer and the ACTUAL musicians to compare it to karaoke. Simply unwarranted, jejeune, and untenable. They "lift" the songs, rather than overwhelm them, and that is the key here. It all adds up to a remarkably beautiful, powerful record. And I'm sorry, but there is nothing 'dated' about a solid electric guitar riff, or a militantly strong drumline, or orchestral strings. One of the themes of this album is the offering of hope & thanks with instruments--the pop/rock brushstrokes on this disc do EXACTLY what they need to do. It's rootsy and earthy in the best possible way.
This is an album that was destined to polarize not only because of O'Connor's persona, but because of the subject matter. Little wonder that half the critics praise the work as a thing of great beauty and the other half respond with curiously toothless, uninformed bile.
In the end, the only thing that matters is that it SOUNDS uplifting and awe-inspiring in an increasingly jaded, cynical, plasticized landscape. Little wonder it will be so misunderstood. If you want safe, formulaic "pop," buy Paris Hilton's record. If you listen without prejudice, however, this album speaks with delicious authority and unprecedented beauty. This is all the more timely due to the many people who will dismiss it out-of-hand. It's wheat from the chaff time, and no mistake.
CHOICE TRACKS: "Something Beautiful" (Disc 2: Powerful, vintage O'Connor at her hymnic best); "If You Had A Vineyard" (Spooky enough to make Johhny Cash proud, with knock-out arrangements on both discs); "Dark Am I Yet Lovely" (O'Connor floating over one of her most emotional melodies ever); "33" (spellbinding on Disc One, lithe and acrobatic on Disc 2); "Whomsoever Dwells" (ominous and haunting on both discs).