Has it really been almost 20 years since the release of Sinéad’s I Don’t Want What I Haven’t Got? I was 19 years old, just out of high school and started my extended run at a local junior college in San Antonio, Texas. Sinéad herself was only twenty four when she gave birth to I Don’t Want with her husband, drummer John Reynolds. Most of the tracks were recorded with very few takes. The record company initially rejected the record because in their words it sounded like `…reading somebody’s diaries.’
The personal nature of I Don’t Want is what made Sinéad an international phenomenon. To me, being a young poet, I connected to her words. It takes a true artist to connect beyond their gender and age. Sinéad was this artist. All you have to do is listen to her lyrics, especially on “The Last Day of Our Acquaintance.” Her words and vocal performance perfectly reflected the initial sound and emotions when heart shatters during the first moments of a break up. It starts off with Sinéad quietly whispering her vocal over her acoustic guitar. It climaxes with Sinéad finding her voice and becoming louder in a moment of empowerment. It’s no coincidence of the song’s placement at the end of the record. Sinéad’s vocal in her anthem was the signal of her true nature. Sinéad was always an outspoken artist who told her version of the truth, no matter what cost. She was brave and uncompromising from the beginning, and it startled a male-dominated entertainment world.
It’s hard to separate all of the events following the release of the album because in my memory they’re tied together. I remember I was at the same junior college and proudly wearing my oversized, black Sinéad t-shirt with a huge portrait of O’Connor’s beautiful bald head on the front during the height of her controversy. This was the time when even Frank Sinatra was condemning her. But not me, I never wavered even with all the looks and stares around this very conservative Texas city. I recall one of my history professors walking with me across campus admiring me wearing Sinéad’s shirt during the time the public was turning against her. Looking back, I wish I still had that shirt.
It’s amazing that the public so quickly rallied against the artist who only a few months back had a number one single written by Prince himself. “Nothing Compares 2 U” is what most will remember I Don’t Want, but to me the legacy of Sinéad’s second album is the legion of artists who came after her. By standing up to the status quo, O’Connor opened the door for Polly Jean Harvey, Tori Amos, Cat Power and so many more. Sinéad symbolically took the arrows for those future artists. I believe she laid the dynamic foundations for these women and their art to thrive during their respective eras.
I Don’t Want is not just a singer/songwriter’s manifesto and it’s reflected in this newly released Special Edition. Not only do you get this now classic album remastered, but also a disc of live rarities, remixes and b-sides. One of my favorites is the Daniel Lanois-produced “Mind Games,” a cover of the John Lennon song. and Sinéad’s voice is perfect for this version. Lennon would proud of the way she sings the original title of the song, “Make Love Not War,” over and over on the fade out. O’Connor also adds a little Jamaican flavor to a faithful cover of Gregory Issacs’ “Night Nurse.”
If there was any doubt about the greatness of Sinéad, press play and listen to the dynamic fire in her passionate voice in this acoustic version of “Troy” recorded live in London. Also available on the bonus disc of I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, this is reason enough to buy the reissue. When she sings, “I’ll remember it/ every restless night,“you are there reliving it all. Fucking amazing!
Let’s not forget some of the gems from the original album that made I Don’t Want an electric listening experience. Sinead brought the noise on the memorable rock anthem “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” (Listen for the killer bass lines from former Smiths member Andy Rourke.) We can’t forget the sizzling “Jump in the River” with bullets firing the single that dropped before the album’s release. Who could forget the time Sinead once claimed “Rap is the folk music of this generation.” You can hear O’Connor incorporating a hip-hop feel with the James Brown back beat sample on the very lovely and potent Frank O’Connor poem “I Am Stretched Out on Your Grave.”
I Don’t Want was and still is a very diverse album that changed music within the confines of these timeless songs. We owe a lot to Sinéad. She proved to her label, the music world and every artist that writing from the heart, no matter how personal, will connect with every man, woman and child on the planet and she did with I Don’t Want What I Haven’t Got. She inspired me and continues to today. Sometimes it’s difficult to reflect your own voice within your own personal canvas but Sinéad proved it’s the only way to be true to yourself as an artist. This is still a bold and delicate album that grows stronger and more beautiful with age. More than a work of a vilified anti-hero on a t-shirt or on a video screen, I Don’t Want What I Haven’t Got is the album where Sinéad found her voice. It was not only hers but the voice of a generation who searched for love, honesty and devotion in an uncompromising nature that only Sinéad O’Connor could bring to life.
Beth Orton – Trailer Park
Emiliana Torrini – Fisherman’s Woman
Tori Amos – Little Earthquakes