My Favorite Albums: ‘The Lion and the Cobra’

It’s amazing to me that people seem to know Sinead O’Connor by one song, and one song only: the Prince-penned megabit “Nothing Compares 2 U.” Well, and that whole “ripping up a picture of the pope on SNL” thing. But I’m here to tell you — there’s something else: The after world The Lion and the Cobra. O’Connor’s debut album was the mainstay of angst-ridden girls everywhere before Ms. Amos and her earthquakes came along.

The Lion and the Cobra was released in 1987, and had a couple of breakout hits — “Mandinka,” an MTV favorite, and “I Want Your (Hands on Me),” which was hilariously featured on the Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master soundtrack — which brings me to my severe Sinead love, because even though I couldn’t avoid seeing the video for “Mandinka,” it was the Dream Master track that made me take notice and go out and buy a copy of the full album. Which is when I discovered how GREAT the entire thing is.

Each song is a screeching, throbbing, angry, split-your-heart-open tale of heartache and longing — which is equally perfect for screaming your lungs out over some douche who treated you badly, or crying your eyes out for the one good guy that got away. Sinead belts out every note in her trademark brogue-ish tongue; alternating between pure rage and beautifully composed crooning. I can’t think of any other way to say it except, MAN THIS LADY CAN SING.

Opening with the haunting “Jackie,” the album moves into its dance/video hit “Mandinka,” a song which evokes dear memories of when I used to stomp around in Doc Martens and plaid miniskirts at The Underground. Then we move on to “Jerusalem” — a showcase for O’Connor’s stellar vocal talents — before we get into the really raw stuff. “Just Like U Said It Would B” starts soft and then roars to a finish that will leave you limp on the floor after she gets done screaming out, “Will you be my lover?

“Never Get Old” ramps up with a recital of an Irish Psalm (by Enya!), and turns into kind of a “wailing banshee” thing that’s immensely beautiful. Then we get to one of my very favorites, “I Want Your (Hands on Me),” which is just too sexy to even describe. Sure, it’s obviously overt, but man. It works (IYKWIM, AITYD). And then comes my absolute favorite; the song that absolutely rips me into millions of tiny pieces and leaves me breathless — “Troy.”

You can hear every emotion in every note — and the intensity of this song builds to such an amazing crescendo, I’m actually surprised Sinead made it out of the studio alive. “Troy” is the ultimate “Fuck You” to every guy that ever did you wrong. “But you should have left the light on, YOU should have left the light on…” Man. I got all weepy and enraged just typing this.

The next track, “Drink Before the War,” softens things up a bit, but don’t be fooled by its slow, creeping beats — it’s full of as much angst as the rest of the album. “Just Call Me Joe” finishes off The Lion and the Cobra with one more tale of lovely woe; told with much more restrained anger than the rest of the tunes.

I urge you to take a listen if you’ve never heard it — or revisit it if you’ve forgotten how fantastic it is.

All this recent gossip about whether Sinead’s marriage is on or off, and how many pounds she may or not have gained — and how “old” she is — makes no goddamn difference. The lady has some serious talent, and this album definitely proves it.

Must-listens:

Jerusalem
Getting’ tired of you sayin’ you’re busy, wanna stop it and you said it would be easy

Just Like U Said It Would B
When I’m walking on stage, when everything’s quiet. Will you …stay? 

Troy
I know you’re always telling me that you love me — just sometimes I wonder if I shouldn’t leave. 

I Want Your ( Hands On Me ) 
Put ’em on, put ’em on, put ’em on me.

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