To dedicate a Retro Records slot to an album encountered just over a week ago may seem counter-intuitive. However, the transcendental qualities of Sinéad O’Connor’s thirty-year-old debut, Lion and the Cobra, are such that the listener is immediately entranced, yearning to become the project’s most intimate companion.
Although its title is derived from biblical associations, it could just as easily be a descriptor for O’Connor’s staggering vocal range; the fierce roars of the lion ripping around the quieter but no less calculated tones of the cobra. This colourful lyrical display is second only to the emotional extremes of the project; sporadic moments of devilish joy ousted time and again by the overarching themes of anger and anguish, accentuated by O’Connor’s haunting timbre.
A celebration of storytelling as well as musicality, each offering carves out a rousing narrative, O’Connor emerging as a bastion of Celtic mythology. The unfolding tale of despair in ‘Jackie’ is an unceremonious initiation into the chaotic world of the album.
‘Jerusalem’ builds on this foundation, allowing O’Connor to unleash an impassioned tirade; “getting tired of you doing this to me… I’m gonna hit you if you say that to me.” Bolstered by this attitude of accusation, ‘Drink Before the War’ brandishes more of the same, punctuated by staccato bursts of glistening instrumentation. “Why don’t you go out there and do something useful?”
It is ‘Troy’, however, that anchors the project, acting as the epicentre from which the rest of the songs radiate. Pulsating with the excitement and vigour of an Epic, its essence is wrapped up in the line “I’d kill a dragon for you.”
Hypnotised by O’Connor’s triumphant debut, it is easy to forget the thirty years that have elapsed since its inception. What results is a conflicting listening experience, encapsulated by ‘Just Like U Said It Would B’ – the listener is simultaneously buoyed by the hope of a young Sinéad, who declares with unwavering confidence, “I will learn how to run with the big boys, I will learn how to sink, and to swim”. What has followed, however, has been a life of splintered hope, a would-be comedy of errors if it wasn’t just so sad. The singer’s constant personal turbulence, represented most recently by her legal change of name to Magda Davitt, has eclipsed her impressive musical output.
Having been rendered emotionally raw by the young woman held within these tracks, one aches for the singer to rediscover the assuredness of her past self, once again embodying the lion of her debut. Although O’Connor’s history makes this difficult to envision, solace is not altogether abandoned, as she herself declares, “I will rise, and I will return, a phoenix from the flame.”