First Hit #1: April 21, 1990
1990 has been lousy with ballads, and if I’m honest, many of those ballads have been pretty lousy. So you might think that I hate ballads. I really don’t, and as evidence I present Nothing Compares 2 U.
Alright, I don’t like the spelling of the title, rendered as such because Prince wrote it, and has a vendetta against spelling. The song itself, however, shows the value of paring back, and not trying to gild the lily too much. Sinead O’Connor is the star, and the arrangement is just enough to augment her performance. Her vocal is a thrilling example of what is possible with the human voice. It’s all on her, and her control of the message gives a song a pathos that it needs to have the lyrics even work. It’s not simply a great performance, there’s nothing to get in the way. No tinkling bells that announced a poor chart hit in the ’90s, no overt sentimentality. The song gives just enough to augment the performance’s own hint of sadness and amplify it. O’Connor did not want what she didn’t have, and for good reason, adding anything more would have just ruined the single.
O’Connor was an ill fit for the world of pop stardom in 1990 – though it seems hilariously quaint now that ripping up a picture of the Pope caused a firestorm of controversy – and that’s a shame, because she was a performer with great power and pathos, something that is always welcome.