Sunday, May 09, 2010

Music of 1990: Nothing Compares 2U

Often the biggest hits are the ones that defy the odds, for what were the odds that 1990's biggest global hit would be a Prince-penned ballad sung by a mostly unknown and eccentric bald Irish singer? When looking back at Sinead O'Connor's discography, "Nothing Compares 2U" is an outlier, for she never came even close to replicating its success, and perhaps didn't want to. It doesn't really fit with her flamboyant and often controversial blend of politics, folk and religion. In the US, she remains a one-hit wonder.

Prince wrote the song in the '80s but did not record it, intending it for his side project Family. For his effort, he was nominated for the Song of the Year Grammy Award in 1991 (the only time Prince was nominated for this award), but he lost to Julie Gold's "From a Distance." It was one of several songs he wrote for female artists at the time, which also including collaborating with Madonna on Like a Prayer's "Love Song" and penning "U" for Paula Abdul's second album, Spellbound. The track was also nominated for Record of the Year, but lost to Phil Collins' "Another Day in Paradise."

The song is quite gorgeous. It opens with a simple, lovely melody of strings and keyboard chords, over which O'Connor's vocals start somewhat hushed before she lets loose some wails later. It's stately imagery evokes loneliness--"I can eat my dinner in a fancy restaurant"--instantly brings to mind the image of a woman sitting alone in a grand setting, perhaps the only sole diner. Her heartbreak over having lost a lover drives her to depression and in the end, she's determined to win him (or her, it's never said) back.

The video, directed by John Maybury, is quite good too, much of which consists of a tight-focus shot of O'Connor's face against a black backround. She cries, and it's convincingly genuine. It won Video of the Year at the MTV Music Video Awards, beating clips for "The End of the Innocence," "Janie's Got a Gun" and "Vogue."

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