Sinead O’Connor – Nothing Compares 2 U

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.

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One Response to Sinead O’Connor – Nothing Compares 2 U

  1. RBerman says:

    Much has been written about her army recruit haircut, her Irish-against-Catholicism politics, the way the video sells the song both with its minimalist framing and with her terrific acting performance (see also the second half of this conceptual homage: ) The lyrics follow “Against All Odds” in the hearfelt torch song vein. I love specific lyrics, and this song gives plenty great examples of the anhedonia that follows a relational disaster. She’s so depressed, she even sought medical attention! I am confused, though. The end of the song (“I’m willing to give it another try”) sounds like a sentiment from the leaver, not the leavee. Who’s in control here?

    Prince showed his prowess at the “slow gospel burn” with Purple Rain, and he does it again here. Musically, we’ve got live drums and three keyboard sounds: a string pad, an electric piano, and a wafting vocal-sounding patch. It’s another great example of how to make a five+ minute song not get boring.

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