Sinead O'Connor, "How About I Be Me (And You Be You)?"
(One Little Indian/MRI)
If she'd stopped recording, her tabloid tendencies would have consumed her legacy. Thank heaven -- and despite several assurances of retirement -- Sinead O'Connor, 45, has soldiered on, dropping the occasional album to pierce the veil of her headline-making habits and remind everyone that, OK, she's a little off but she's also one of the most admirably soul-baring, undeniably gut-wrenching pop artists around.
O'Connor's ninth such effort is one of her best, and it comes on the heels of holiday headlines about her quickie Vegas marriage to a drug counselor and the crack she bought on their wedding night. Mood swings? O'Connor's still got 'em, but on "How About I Be Me (And You Be You)?" -- oh, sure now she's got a live-and-let-live attitude -- those same swings power a colorful and alluring emotional carousel. She may lack an editor in real life, but in the studio O'Connor remains focused and controlled, even graceful.
The lively "4th & Vine" opens the record with wedding-day excitement, skipping through African rhythms and instrumentation and using her old-soul voice to evoke positively girlish joy. Even though the very next song, "Reason With Me," slows to a crawl for a junkie's lament (and perhaps her most telling lyric: "But I was only bluffing"), a giddy girl-in-love theme flits in and out of the music, which casts a wide net (cavernous riffs, lush strings, Celtic folk) without unraveling, and the lyrics, which marvel at and rail against the wonder and agony of romance. That voice is still one of the most cutting instruments in pop, and when it's layered (with one of those layers muffled and warped) during "The Wolf Is Getting Married" it really sinks its teeth in. "Queen of Denmark" leaves the voice naked so that O'Connor' can hammer home some fierce decrees, as she wavers from uncertainty ("I really don't know what I want from this world") to defiance ("You really have no right to want anything from me at all"). Musically rich, lyrically moving, overall quite powerful.
Van Halen, "A Different Kind of Truth" (Interscope)
It took Eddie Van Halen a while to court David Lee Roth for a full-scale reunion, starting with a 2007 tour (following the acrimonious departure of singer Sammy Hagar and bassist Michael Anthony) and resulting in this album, the band's first in more than a decade and first with Roth since "1984." Likewise, "A Different Kind of Truth" is a slow burn, opening with the sleepy single "Tattoo" and building in intensity as Eddie's fingers heat up and Diamond Dave starts swinging.
Dave's swing -- that's the chief thrill of this belated, cautious return to something resembling form. So much nimbler and lither than lunky Hagar, Roth's Vegas vocals keep an easier pace with Van Halen's roller coaster rides up and down the fretboard. But if the songs sound a little stale, well, almost half of them are ancient demos predating the band's debut; only the mildly experimental "Honeybabysweetiedoll" and acoustic-blues first half of "Stay Frosty" step above the usual wankfest. To its credit, this is an album that sounds utterly outside the spectrum of radio play, opting most of the time for full-bore, high-kicking pyro-rock. But that means it comes with a label: For dedicated fans only.
-- OFWGKTA finally showed up this week with a new song, paired with a video directed by Tyler, the Creator under the alias Wolf Haley. The single heralds the group's upcoming full-length (at long last), "OF Tape Vol. 2," out March 20. Full of the group's typical shock tactics, the lyrics and visuals of "Rella" encompass various extremes of violence, misogyny, public sex and drug use. Hodgy Beats' penis shoots lasers that turn several women into cats. Domo Genesis slaps a woman in the face. Tyler, depicted as a wigged centaur, snorts a massive pile of white powder. The beats are thin, the rhymes only occasionally clever. It's hard to imagine why we took them so seriously last summer.
Lock up your, well, anyone: Odd Future's tour starts March 9 (no Chicago date), and their Adult Swim TV show "Loiter Squad" premieres March 25.
-- Britain's the Cribs, returning to life without guitarist Johnny Marr, spent some time in Chicago recording part of their upcoming album, "In the Belly of the Brazen Bull" (due May 8) with Steve Albini. The first single ahead of that effort is a stomping anthem for our fair city, "Chi-Town." The oft-repeated chorus goes, "Meet me down in Chi-Town / in Logan Square underground / You know the one / we were always there."
Sing along when the Jarman brothers return April 9 to Schubas.