“I am not like I was before,” O’Connor whispers in the first 10 seconds of her second album, and she means it.
Though her soulful, aqua eyes still stare out of the cover photo from under a shaved head, O’Connor pushes her varied talents in new directions. Her certified-gold first album, The Lion and the Cobra, pulsed with fierce dance numbers; her ethereal new record breathes out a gentle sigh of folk-pop songs. With remarkable control, O’Connor manipulates her voice to cover a symphonic range of moods, shifting mid-syllable to emulate a breathy flute, a reedy oboe or a razor-sharp blaring horn. Because the new album favors her softer tones, the drama increases when she slips in a few of the angrier notes that dominated her previous release.
O’Connor, who grew up in Ireland and now lives in London with her husband and toddler son, would appear to have done a lot of thinking and living in her 23 years. Sometimes a glimmer of ageless wisdom surfaces in her songs. “Three Babies,” the goose-bumpy showstopper of the album, affirms romantic love and motherhood as it chronicles a breakthrough into adulthood. “I Am Stretched on Your Grave,” about a young woman mourning for her dead lover, evokes the elemental tragedy of a folktale. Other songs make allusions to O’Connor’s early success and her determination to keep its distractions from steering her off the path she has chosen for her life. So far, this fine album attests, she is traveling without detours toward a bright, uncompromised musical future. (Chrysalis)