#43: Sinéad O’Connor – I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got (1990)

This week, I have looked back over the music I have reviewed over the last few months, and it amazes me how much of it has come at the wrong time. If only I’d discovered it when I was fourteen, or nineteen, or twenty-two. I have strong feelings that I associate with all of those times in my life. Sometimes music fits with them, and sometimes music fits with the person I would have been, at one of those points. I was fourteen the first time I deliberately, properly listened to Sinéad O’Connor singing “Nothing Compares 2 U”. It was on a compilation CD. I didn’t really follow up on it. That missing of the moment can work both ways – sometimes the time has long since passed. Other times, it hasn’t turned up yet.

Another thing that has occurred to me is that I’m a little bit obsessed with trying to capture the feeling of now. I remember being twenty-one, and listening to Frank Turner and wondering how the hell a person can capture the feeling of twenty-one-ness like Love, Ire & Song does. I remember wanting to hold on to that for a long time – and listening to it again, just a few months ago, and finding that it didn’t quite click right with me any more. I’ve kept a diary for eleven non-consecutive years of my life, countless notebooks, endless lists and trackers and scraps of paper, trying to write down what it feels like right now, to be at this level of development, to see the world from precisely this vantage point, so that I can revisit it and feel it again. Sometimes, rarely, I succeed. More often I don’t. Either way, I will probably keep trying until I die.

Twenty-seven, for me, feels like I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got. This is witchcraft, because O’Connor released it when she was twenty-four, but this album somehow manages to slot into the years a little post quarter life crisis, where the anger has dissipated, and the disappointment that you can’t in fact do everything – and you’re too old to be a prodigy now – has ceased to sting so much. And, crucially, the gaping hole of What Else Is There has ceased to be the most interesting question. I didn’t believe, for a very long time, that it was possible to not want what you hadn’t got, and it is only really right now that I am getting my head around the concept. Under this album is a long thread of loss and regrouping, but without the taut, twanging immediacy of… of Lauryn Hill, I suppose.

The best bits just to listen to are the simple bits. The opener, “Feel So Different” starts with the Serenity Prayer, and otherwise is just strings and O’Connor’s voice, both of which are suited to the confessional and the emotional, and hit me in places. It’s a good counterpoint to the final, titular track, which is just vocals and reverb. Nowhere to hide. It takes significant balls to keep that going, without being boring or going even the slightest bit wobbly, for nearly six minutes.

I Do Not Want has broken my otherwise unblemished record: I am a crier, in general, but I don’t think I’ve shed a tear at any Mookbarks album thus far. It is nearly the end of October. It wasn’t “Nothing Compares 2 U” that got me – I’ve heard it too many times, I suppose. It was “Black Boys on Mopeds”. It resonates with some other things I am thinking about at the moment, and apart from that, this is the kind of thing that wouldn’t have hit me nearly as hard two or four or six years ago. That’s an odd thing to think, that the contours of my empathy have shifted and still continue to shift – “Black Boys on Mopeds” is about racial violence in England, but it’s not that I respond to tragedy, and more how. Does that make sense? This is what I mean about feeling things differently at different times in your life. If I knew how to put this into words properly, I’d do it.

“I Am Stretched Out On Your Grave” is obviously my favourite thing on the whole album, because it’s a seventeenth-century Irish poem, with a hop-hop beat attached to it, and nothing else. It’s fusion, but in a Hymns Ancient and Modern sort of way – and it finishes off with a folky bit of fiddle, which means it was obviously written specifically for me.

That said, the weirder or more starkly simple the sound, the better I Do Not Want generally is. “The Emperor’s New Clothes” and “Jump in the River” both seem to pack their emotional resonance more into the words than the music – which is fine, it’s just that some of the others are so astounding that it almost feels like a cop out. Maybe I just gravitate towards the acoustic more than the electric, the soft more than the rocky.

It is the end of October, and what with one thing and another, I am on the edge of a couple of emotional milestones at the moment. It is difficult to look them in the eye, and even more so to articulate. Maybe I will listen to this until I know it off by heart, and then at least somebody will have said what I mean.