- Something Beautiful
- We People Who Are Darker Than Blue
- Out of the Depths
- Dark I Am Yet Lovely
- If You Had a Vineyard
- Watcher of Men
- The Glory of Jah
- Whomsoever Dwells
- Rivers of Babylon
- Hosanna Filio David
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Theology is an enigmatic double-disc collection of original recordings and covers. The songs on both discs are nearly identical, the difference is that on the versions Sinéad O'Connor recorded in Dublin she is accompanied solely by her own and Steve Cooney's acoustic guitars, and on the latter set, recorded in London, she was backed by a rotating band full of studio musicians who include everyone from bassist Robbie Shakespeare and drummer Matthew Phillips, to pianist Toby Baker, guitarist Mark Gilmour, and strings. The sheer minimal approach of the Dublin set carries within it a kind of authority, in her own elegant yet poignant tunes such as "Something Beautiful," "Out of the Depths," the tender "Dark I Am Yet Lovely," the minimal waltz that is "If You Had a Vineyard," and the nearly whispered "Whomsoever Dwells," (a kind of title track for her rarities, B-sides and live collection of the same name in 2003 called She Who Dwells...), and a truly moving reading of "By the Rivers of Babylon." The London Sessions are no less eerie, but they are, in essence, different songs when filled out by a larger group of players. Here, "Something Beautiful," with its strings and slippery drum kit, is nearly a processional. The reading of Curtis Mayfield's "We People Who Are Darker Than Blue" has a 21st century soul vibe without losing the author's soulful spirit of brokenhearted frustration moved to anger. It's a unity hymn, and O'Connor's voice underplays the words as the music, in semi-hushed tones -- the strings and a wah-wahed electric guitar -- drive the track, but it's the synth bassline that grabs the attention. There is a greater drama and a subdued ferocity in its groove. O'Connor also covers "I Don't Know How to Love Him" from the musical Jesus Christ Superstar, with a slinky reggae backbeat, dramatic strings and drum loop, it's theatrical, but she's got the voice for the tune and there isn't a hint of irony in her delivery; it would have been so naked on the acoustic record, so she wisely left it off. For "Glory of Jah," a harp and organ paint her vocal introduction before the cut moves into a reggae bubbler with keyboards, strings, metronomic backbeats and big fat power chords, which push it into the red. Ultimately, this will appeal to O'Connor's fans, more than anyone coming to her work for the first time. Theology is aptly named in that it sets out, however loosely, to offer the views and passions of a spiritual pilgrim effectively and passionately.
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O'Connor has always explored spiritual themes in her work, but here she pulls off a unique home-run by utilizing universal themes of anger, desolation, thankfulness, betrayal, joy, etc. from the Old Testament Psalms and even the raw sensuality of the Songs of Solomon--some of the greatest literature in human history, irrespective of religion or political slant. Here, O'Connor's original melodies and lyrics ("Turn up your bass amp...whack it up all the way save Him" from the song "33") are some of her best. The whole effect is one of majestic reverence and raw emotion, i.e. vintage O'Connor. Disc One presents the songs as totally personal, purely acoustic explorations about anger, war, peace, reconciliation, etc. Then, Disc two brings the same songs to the electric "mountain-top" and O'Connor transforms them into full rock and hip-hop "anthems." The effect shows both the personal and collective, universal power in the search for some way to make sense of the world in the proverbial "bigger picture." Moreover, O'Connor's take on Curtis Mayfield's "We People Who Are Darker Than Blue" is definitive, as is her re-worked version of the classic spiritual "Rivers of Babylon." Goosebump-stuff. This could have been an awful album, had O'Connor not been sincere, or had she shirked on the melodic front. But, no surprise--she's covered all her bases in spades. Those who automatically balk at O'Connor (or automatically detest the value of any kind of "spiritual" reflection at all) will dismiss this out-of-hand. This will be a controversial, polarizing record. It's ironic, because such prejudicial narrow-mindedness is exactly the sort of thing that this peaceful record apparently seeks to diffuse. In any case, O'Connor manages to remain groundbreaking and an ever-potent singer/songwriter, arranger, etc. 'Theology' is an thoughfully intense, symbolic album, reminiscent of Dylan's 'Slow Train Coming' in some ways, and VERY reminiscent of the spiritual searchings of Johnny Cash in others: (O'Connor's insta-classic "If You Had A Vineyard" is very very Cash, in the best possible way). Eminently listenable and emotionally very moving, for those who find the space to actually listen. There are only two lame tracks out of the 24 songs: "I Don't Know How To Love Him" (An alternative rock legend should NOT sing Lloyd Webber showtunes, and Sinead doesn't "sell it" here), and the London(Disc 2) version of "Watcher of Men," which O'Connor arranges as a lazy trance number. Unfortunate, because it "guts" the song. The acoustic version of this song (Disc One) is one of her best, most angst-ridden, and most hair-raising. Go figure. Otherwise, 'Theology' is a striking document, with O'Connor showcasing that inimitable voice, songwriting, guitar-playing, and her bold honesty in yet another innovative way. The musical honesty here puts most every contemprary act to shame, but O'Connor has never been anything less than astonishingly gifted and drop-dead sincere. Put simply, 'Theology' is a sonically beautiful, soulfully enriching record. Songs like "Something Beautiful (Jeremiah)", "33," "Vineyard," and "Dark Am I Yet Lovely" are up there with her best work, 20 years after this woman first made such an impact on the alt-rock scene with her classic "Lion & Cobra" album. I see this as more of a HUMAN album than a spiritual one, and one does not have to be "religious" or even "spiritual" to pick- up on the very potent, timely, and relevant themes she explores here. A keeper. Maybe even a classic, in its own way. Will people slow-down enough in this frightening, increasingly reptilian world long enough to listen. They ought to. Production by Ireland's Steve Cooney (Dublin Sessions) and London's Ron Tom (London Sessions)...top-notch.