Before she ripped up the pope and then later became a Catholic priest, before she declared herself a lesbian and then married a man, before she faded from the spotlight, Sinéad O'Connor released this absolutely stunning album. I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got is easily my favorite album of 1990. It's lushly orchestrated, varied yet cohesive, and musically complex yet easily memorable. Stunning and unforgettable are just a couple words to describe the wonder of O'Connor's second album, by far the most successful of her career.
"Feels So Different" opens the set on a somber, understated note with O'Connor's vocal front and center over a classically composed strings arrangement. It's a gorgeous song, immediately establishing the album's strong sense of melody and envelope-pushing tendencies. "I Am Stretched On Your Grave" is also quite minimalist, but quite different. O'Connor's vocal is almost a chant, delivered over the beats and sparse instrumentation, which picks up only for a fiddle solo at the song's conclusion.
"Three Babies" features another string arrangement, but this time it serves to add warmth rather than drama, a contrast to the song's lyrics of regretful abortion. "The Emperor's Clothes" is one of the album's more upbeat moments, and was the follow-up single to "Nothing Compares 2U," but didn't become a hit. "I will live by my own policies...I will sleep with a clear conscious...I will sleep in peace" she sings unapologetically to any would-be detractor. As personal as many of these songs are, they are political too, such as folksy guitar-based "Black Boys on Mopeds," which targets racism in Britain.
As good as the first half of this album is, the second half is no less satisfying. It doesn't hurt that it starts with "Nothing Compares 2U," the Prince-penned song that was one of 1990s defining musical moments. I'll probably write a whole entry about this song soon, so all I'll say now as that it's easily one of the five most beautiful pop songs ever recorded.
Chugging guitars propel "Jump in the River," the album's most rocking moment. This would have a made a good single, and it's shame the album lost momentum after "The Emperor's New Clothes" failed to catch on. It's fire is followed by the contrasting cool of "You Cause as Much Sorrow," over which O'Connor tames her signature wail to almost a hush.
The album concludes strongly with "The Last Day of Our Acquaintance," which starts softly but builds to a dramatic conclusion, and the gentle a capella title track.
Even if you dismiss O'Connor as a kook...and she probably is...you'd be doing yourself a major disservice to dismiss this affecting and finely crafted work. One of my all-time favorite albums.
Best: Nothing Compares 2U, Feel So Different, The Emporer's New Clothes, Jump in the River, The Last Day of Our Acquaintance, I Am Stretched on Your Grave, Three Babies