Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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SINÉAD O'CONNOR: THE YEAR OF THE HORSE (1991)

****

Directed by Sophie Muller.
With Sinéad O'Connor.
(Chrysalis/Ensign Video, color, 60 mins.)

By Robert Christgau and Carola Dibbell

With her shaved head and clodhoppers, Sinéad O'Connor looks as sincere and humble as a little nun from the peat bogs, lacking only a pregnant belly to embody all the paradoxes of one unlikely rock tradition--clumsy, transported religious ecstasy, totally unaffected and laced with blarney. Her first longform video, The Value of Ignorance, presented her as an arty up-and-comer, albeit a radiantly intense one with a great sweet hunk of a voice. Though occasionally you heard the crowd you never saw, it was mostly head shots, often double-exposed over vaguely evocative images. The Year of the Horse is far more conventional in form--just a concert set pieced together from two consecutive shows in Brussels and Rotterdam. But it will make a believer out of you.

It helps that the set draws on her multiplatinum 1990 album, I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got. But it helps even more that this time O'Connor is no longer an up-and-comer. She's a star, and for all her protestations she feels comfortable that way. Only a dolt would resort to head shots when presented with so many previously unseen stage moves--the singer strides boylike among the soldiers in her band, hops around as if the Jamaican skank were kissing cousin to the Irish reel, flutters her enormous hands over her microphone and her decidedly unvirginal body. And director Sophie Muller is plainly no dolt.

Most concert video are so dull that we only wish their perpetrators would check out the starkly coherent editing here--and maybe think about hiring lighting designer Phillip "Ky" Cabot, whose simple verticals lend the long shots an architectural elegance. But of course, all the tech in the world won't change an arty up-and-comer into a recaster of the tradition. O'Connor offers up a performance you can't imagine. You have to see it.

Video Review, July 1991