It’s curious—or curiously apt, given that her tumultuous career and public life have been filled with head-scratchers—that Sinéad O’Connor would follow up a series of scathing open letters to Miley Cyrus initially regarding the use of provocative imagery in the young star’s work with a rather straightforward pop-rock album filled with sexually charged material. Of course, O’Connor isn’t swinging naked from a wrecking ball in her new music video, but I’m Not Bossy, I’m the Boss, which is the singer-songwriter’s most accessible album since 2000’s Faith and Courage, includes a song about a woman, to quote the press notes, “romantically engaging with her pillow.”
It’s also curious that O’Connor claims that most of the songs on the album aren’t autobiographical, what with lyrics like “I love to make music, but my head got wrecked by the business,” which was essentially her warning to Cyrus last fall. Still, she insists I’m Not Bossy follows the journey of a fictional woman’s loves and losses, from worshipping men to contemplating suicide to, finally, eschewing it all for self-love. The standout “Your Green Jacket” finds said woman making love to yet another inanimate object, this time in the non-sexual sense: The track might be a bouncy pop song, furnished with subtle electronic flourishes, but it’s a profoundly raw and poignant expression of longing.
“The Voice of My Doctor” makes nods to “Nothing Compares 2 U,” only O’Connor’s doctor isn’t urging her to have fun anymore, but to be wary of being made a fool. Her vocal here is the most forceful on the album, as her character triumphantly leaves a message for her lover’s wife on the back of his shoulder while he sleeps. “Take Me to Church” similarly harkens back to another past single, “No Man’s Woman,” in which the singer pledged herself to God. Here, though, she decides, “I’m the only one I should adore,” after wondering, “What have I been writing love songs for?/I don’t want to write them anymore/I don’t wanna sing from where I sang before.”
From the pop-funk of “James Brown,” featuring Afrobeat musician Seun Kuti, to the rollicking “Where Have You Been?,” I’m Not Bossy is sonically diverse, but rarely do the songs give O’Connor the opportunity to flaunt her impressive vocal range or, aside from closer “Streetcars,” explore the more intimate side of her still-striking voice. And with few of the tracks running longer than three-and-a-half minutes, many of them feel like they end before they can even get off the ground. Of course, that’s preferable to over-sharing, which, at one point or another, is something both Sinéad and Miley have both been guilty of.