Why Sinead O’Connor wants to make grown men cry
There's a moment in the recording of Sinead O'Connor's unexpected new single Trouble Of The World when you can hear her voice catch.
The Irish singer was in the middle of a year's worth of gigs when the pandemic shutdown halted touring and she decided to release her rendition of the famed Mahalia Jackson gospel song.
O'Connor and Northern Irish film composer David Holmes had been secretly working on songs for a new album and as the Black Lives Matter movement sprang back into life, she felt compelled to share her emotionally rich tribute to Jackson.
The socially conscious singer has often used her work to address injustice, with her 1990 song Black Boys On Mopeds, about the police killing of a young black man in the UK, now also being covered by other artists in the wake of George Floyd's death in the US in May.
She was also motivated to shine a light on the American godmother of the American civil rights movement who shouted out "Tell them about your dream Martin", prompting Martin Luther King's historic speech.
"Every movement needs a soundtrack," O'Connor says. "And the soundtrack to the Black Lives Matter movement was recorded and written in the '60s during the civil rights movement.
"So it's really important to reintroduce those artists to this generation, whatever race they are. It's terribly important to introduce these artists again to show the power of music, to provide encouragement. Music is there to entertain but that's not it's only purpose."
The Nothing Compares 2 U singer is acutely aware of music's myriad purposes. She has employed her emotionally rich voice in anger, in pain, in love, in celebration and now, in healing.
O'Connor has shared her chronic struggle with mental health issues with fans - who have often had cause to be concerned for her welfare because of heartbreaking social media posts - and is currently using the touring shutdown to study to become a palliative healthcare assistant.
Even as she is writing and recording new music, her personal playlists are almost exclusively Hindu mantras and Islamic dua.
"I find that music grounding," she says. "I'm just frightened all the time of stupid stuff like going to the post office. I'm one of these people with chronic anxiety issues and I find the dua and the mantras take away all that fear. They centre me and take away my anxiety better than any drug would. And they have mantras and duas for every situation that the human person could possibly be in. They even have one for when you are being taken to court.
"When my two youngest guys were young and we would be driving in the car and the two boys are killing and fighting each other and nothing would shut them up, I would play one of the mantras and suddenly there would be silence in the car."
There is silence, broken by the sound of sobbing, when she sings Trouble Of The World or her own composition Thank You For Hearing Me in concert.
O'Connor says she was mostly frightened on stage when she was younger but is now more aware of her musical purpose - which is partly to make men cry.
"There's a song I have Thank You For Hearing Me and that comes toward the end of the set. Up until that point, it's the women that are crying," she says.
"But when we get to that song, the men start crying. You can hear them. And that I find very moving. I'm always very pleased at the end of the shows when the men tell me they were crying as well, because you know you've done your job right. And it's a very happy song, so they're not crying from sadness. There's something else that gets released. I think that I'm a catalyst for blocked emotions."
O'Connor will release her memoir next year before her new album comes out in 2022. She hopes people will discover her funny side with the book - she is after all Irish.
It was written in blog style after a publisher spotted her nightly post-gig musings online.
"That made it very good fun because even the baby is talking in the present tense about being born in Ireland. It was fun to write it," she says.
"I didn't write anything that I would have found too painful to write about. I wrote about things I could manage and it was written mostly five years ago and I'm a very different person now. Hopefully if I've done my job right, it's a funny book. And with any luck you're gonna forget who you are reading about for the first three quarters. And at the end you'll go 'Holy s---, that's Sinead O'Connor.' "
Sinead O'Connor's Trouble Of The World is released on October 2.
Originally published as Why Sinead O'Connor wants to make grown men cry