Sinéad O’Connor drew savage criticism for ripping up a photo of Pope John Paul II during a 1992 Saturday Night Live appearance. And her 1992 album of covers, Am I Not Your Girl?, was noted more for its epilogue, a spoken tirade against the Catholic Church, than for its songs. But now O’Connor has resumed making the kind of unsettling folk rock that caused people to notice her in the first place.
Universal Mother includes some of O’Connor’s most affecting work since her Grammy-nominated 1987 debut, The Lion and the Cobra. Her new melodies are often nursery-rhyme simple, and her attitude is indignant as she targets what could be parental, spousal or governmental abuse in “Red Football” and the English-Irish conflict in “Fire on Babylon” and “Famine.” But she is at her best when she gets quiet and tender. “John, I Love You” and “Scorn Not His Simplicity” are poignant, and her gentle, acoustic version of Nirvana’s “All Apologies” surely would have pleased the late Kurt Cobain had he lived to hear it. (Chrysalis/Ensign/EMI)