Sinead O'Connor - The Lion and the Cobra

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Buy this album at amazon.co.uk

I usually recommend albums when I like almost all of the tracks on the album, but this is a bit different. Don't get me wrong — I don't dislike any of the tracks (I find Sinead's voice so extraordinary that she could make a nursery rhyme interesting). 'Mandinka', 'Jerusalem' and 'Just Like U Said It Would B' are all great tracks, though the heavy 80s synth sounds are a bit dated in places. But I love this album for one track — 'Troy'.

The first time I heard 'Troy' my skin nearly crawled off my body, I was getting so many goose-pimples. Even though I've heard it many times, I'm still not entirely clear what the song is actually about (there seems to be some kind of infidelity going on, and then a tragic event), but the theme is clear enough. It's about survival--coming through something very difficult and rising stronger than before. These lines from the song haunt me:

I'll die But I will rise And I will return The phoenix from the flame I have learned I will rise And you'll see me return Being what I am There is no other Troy For me to burn

This song uses her range to its full potential. Very few singers have such a mutable voice, and she can shift from a sweet whisper to a howling roar in a second. The lines, "I have learned/I will rise" are almost whispered, then there's silence and "The phoenix from the flame" are shouted out with such strength and triumphalism that you can't help but feel uplifted.

This album is 17 years old now, but the song came back to me this week watching Touching the Void, and thinking about endurance, survival and life. The song obviously touches on these themes, but there's another link for me. I mentioned in my entry on Touching the Void that it reminded me of a documentary I saw about flamingos. The latin name for the flamingo is Phoenicopterus ruber (there are several sub-species), and Phoenicopterus roughly means 'phoenix-winged' (I think--my Latin and Greek are a bit rusty). I believe that they were named both for their flame-like colour, but also because they can exist in scorching, hostile conditions that would kill any other animal. In a weird kind of word association, I think of flamingos when I hear 'Troy', and now also mountaineering.

Unfortunately, this has the be the worst-recorded album of great music that I've ever heard, so my music-loving and audiophile selves have a bit of a battle over it. The music-lover usually wins, but the recording engineers should hang their heads in shame over this dog's dinner. I know that Sinead's enormous dynamic range must have made finding the right level a bit of a challenge, but even so, they should have been able to do a better job with it.

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