Song of the Day #5,029: ‘A Perfect Indian’ – Sinéad O’Connor

It’s time for another installment of my Decades series, wherein I look at acclaimed and popular albums from a specific year across four decades (70s through 00s). I’ve done the 0s, 1s, 2s, and 3s and I’m partway through the 4s. Over the next several weeks, I’ll be diving into the year 1994.

As usual, I will offer up my own top ten albums from that year, then dive into ten albums I don’t know or don’t know well.

#10. Universal Mother – Sinéad O’Connor

I can’t say I listen to this album very often (or at all), but I wanted to acknowledge it here because it’s a lovely and meaningful work by a unique artist.

Four years earlier, Sinéad O’Connor became an international star with the release of I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got and its smash hit ‘Nothing Compares 2 U.’ The album dabbled briefly in political content, but mostly featured a strikingly beautiful woman singing sad love songs with a gorgeous Irish lilt.

In 1992, that all went to hell, when O’Connor released a disappointing follow-up, Am I Not Your Girl?, consisting of covers of jazz standards, then promoted the album by tearing up a picture of the Pope on Saturday Night Live.

Her actions led to mass outrage, with far too many people focusing on the “disrespect” of a young woman and far too few on the history of sexual abuse by the Catholic Church on which she was commenting. The incident derailed a previously promising career.

It was against that backdrop that Universal Mother arrived in 1994. More an extended prayer session than a pop album, this collection finds O’Connor singing plaintively over a simple piano, crooning lullabies to her young son and opining in spoken-word prose about the Irish famine. Not exactly a bid to reclaim her position on the Billboard charts.

But it is a singular work by a sensitive and misunderstood artist, and a showcase for her still-exquisite vocals. While the most memorable tracks here are probably the covers (Nirvana’s ‘All Apologies’ and Phil Coulter’s ‘Scorn Not His Simplicity’), O’Connor’s own songs are also quite lovely.

O’Connor had an even better comeback album ahead with 2000’s Faith and Courage, but this one was a statement that (at least for a little while) she wouldn’t let the man beat her down.

[Verse 1]
A Perfect Indian is he
Remembering him life is sweet
Like a weeping willow
His face on my pillow
Comes to me still in my dreams

[Verse 2]
And there I saw a young baby
A beautiful daughter was she
A face from a painting
Red cheeks and teeth aching
Her eyes like a wild Irish sea

[Verse 3]
On a table in her yellow dress
For a photograph feigned happiness
Why in my life is that the only time
That any of you will smile at me

[Chorus]
I’m sailing on this terrible ocean
I’ve come for my self to retrieve
Too long have I been feeling like Lir’s children
And there’s only one way to be free

[Verse 4]
He’s shy and he speaks quietly
He’s gentle and he seems to me
Like the elf-arrow
His face worn and harrowed
Is he a daydreamer like me

[Chorus]
I’m sailing on this terrible ocean
I’ve come for my self to retrieve
Too long have I been feeling like Lir’s children
And there’s only one way to be free

3 thoughts on “Song of the Day #5,029: ‘A Perfect Indian’ – Sinéad O’Connor

  1. Dana Gallup says:

    “I Do Not Want….” was in heavy rotation back in the day, but I largely checked out of Sinead’s music and career after that.

    So sad that her son to whom she was singing here recently ended his life. Sinead has certainly not lived an easy life. Perhaps she will cope with this most recent tragedy through music as she has done before.

  2. Peg says:

    So sad. She does have a beautiful voice

  3. Amy says:

    I, too, couldn’t help but think of the grief she is feeling at the loss of her son. It’s an apt title as Sinead often sang from the perspective of a mother. This was my last year before I became a mother, so I’m curious if I will know more or fewer of these albums the time before Laurie Berkner and The Wiggles would wind up jockeying for air time with Counting Crows.

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