Sinéad O'Connor

Faith and Courage (Atlantic)

Odd as it may seem, coming from a woman who once ripped up a photo of the Pope on national television, Sinéad O'Connor's declaration of faith, "Everything in this world would be OK/If people just believed in God enough to pray," (on "The Lamb's Book of Life," a hymnal track from her first album in six years, Faith and Courage) is sincere. At heart O'Connor always has been a typical Catholic girl. And as anyone brought up on the religion knows, it's a faith that primes its questioning practitioners for a fucked-up life of guilt and repression.

O'Connor's been struggling with Catholicism ever since her sublime 1987 debut, The Lion and the Cobra. Finally, on Faith and Courage, she comes to terms with God, Catholicism, and the spiritual world -- and she's a more tranquil and even amiable person because of it. Musically Faith and Courageis a grab bag. Working with several producers -- Dave Stewart, Wyclef Jean, Brian Eno, and Kevin "She'kspere" Briggs among them -- the album jumps from somber, folksy tales of joy and love to hip-hop­ fueled treatises on faith and devotion in modern times. She even calls out to her father with a hearty "Daddy, I love you" on the album's hardest-rocking song, "Daddy I'm Fine," which pretty much reads like a three-minute bio on O'Connor's formative years: "I got myself a big fat plan/Gonna be a singer in a rock 'n' roll band/And I'm gonna change everything I can."

But that's only one part of Faith and Courage. O'Connor has mellowed, as she subtly states several times, and is even seeking redemption. This is her best album since her commercial breakthrough, I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got, and like that confrontational work, Faith and Couragedoesn't stay in one place. In lesser artists' hands, the mélange of producers and styles would signal desperation (indeed, this is O'Connor's first album for a new label and quite possibly her final chance to prove her artistic worth); but O'Connor has always shone amid diversity. And there's plenty of glory to be found in the worldly "The Healing Room," the march of "No Man's Woman," and the closing "Kyrie Eleison" (a contemporary update -- complete with hip-hop beats and sampled loops -- of the traditional prayer). Faith and Courageis O'Connor's glorious benediction on the masses and her own opportunity for salvation.

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