NEW YORK With her shaved head, spiritual lyrics and history of provocative political statements, Sinead O'Connor doesn't exactly fit in among today's belly-baring crop of pop stars, but she nonetheless decided to reach out to a mainstream audience on her new album, Faith and Courage.
"The people I was working with, the producers and musicians [and] my record company ... encouraged me to do something I am good at, which is write pop songs which are not about what pop songs are normally about," O'Connor said on Tuesday in a roundtable press conference held at Atlantic Records' offices.
O'Connor assembled an all-star group of producers and co-writers for the album, due June 13. The team included Fugees member Wyclef Jean, R&B producer Kevin "She'kspere" Briggs, Eurythmics keyboardist Dave Stewart and members of defunct rock band Ednaswap, who wrote the Natalie Imbruglia hit "Torn" (RealAudio excerpt).
"Wyclef and She'kspere and Dave Stewart were very mischievous characters, so they were great in terms of pulling out that side of me on this record there's more of a poppy, light-hearted kind of thing," O'Connor said.
Ednaswap's Scott Cutler and Anne Preven, meanwhile, helped O'Connor write the album's first single, "No Man's Woman" (RealAudio excerpt), a melodic anthem driven by a hip-hop beat.
"I never wanna be no man's woman/ I only wanna be my own woman," O'Connor sings on the track.
Despite such lyrics, the song is not intended to be anti-male, O'Connor said. " 'No Man's Woman' is a song that has to be looked at carefully. ... [It's about] a woman talking about being very much in love with the spirit of man ... but who desires to have a more spiritual relationship with men, not a sexual relationship."
O'Connor reveals that she is a lesbian in an upcoming cover story in the magazine Curve, according to a statement released by the publication.
'In A Prove-Yourself Mode'
"No Man's Woman," which is at #15 on industry magazine Radio & Records' Adult Alternative airplay chart, has the potential to cross over to pop radio, though it's no sure thing, according to Matthew Reid, music director of the San Francisco pop station KZQZ-FM.
"We're not playing it, [even though] it's a good song," Reid said. "She's in a prove-yourself mode if the record jumped out [at other formats] as a clear-cut smash, people will play it."
O'Connor hasn't had a major pop hit since her breakthrough cover of Prince's "Nothing Compares 2 U" (RealAudio excerpt), from her second album, 1990's I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got.
The Irish singer/songwriter, who recently was ordained as a priest by a breakaway Roman Catholic sect, declined to discuss how her new status affects her life or her songwriting, saying that she didn't want to make her ordination seem like a publicity stunt.
In a pink shirt and loose-fitting jacket, O'Connor looked younger than her 33 years. She maintained a confident tone throughout the roundtable, politely disputing the premise of most of the questions she was asked.
She did acknowledge that her new album was infused with spirituality. On the track "The Lamb's Book of Life," O'Connor sings of "a feeling that everything in the world would be OK/ If people just believed enough in God to pray."
The same track includes what appears to be an apology for such acts as tearing up a photo of the pope during a 1992 "Saturday Night Live" appearance on NBC-TV.
"I know that I have done many things/ To give you reason not to listen to me," she sings. "Words can't express how sorry I am/ If I ever caused pain to anybody."
Singer Laments Misunderstandings
But O'Connor said that her only regret was that some of her actions had been misunderstood. "I'm not sorry I did things, but I am sorry if those things hurt other people. You can't make an omelet without breaking eggs."
The singer provides what may be a more revealing explanation of her actions and their motivation on the guitar-driven, autobiographical "Daddy I'm Fine" (RealAudio excerpt), which was co-written by Stewart.
"I'm going away to London/ 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," she sings.
Given the album's pop-friendly direction, O'Connor could wind up with a comeback hit on her hands, said Rob Sturma, a manager at a Los Angeles Wherehouse Records store.
"No one expected Santana to ever become the pop icon he became, so if the album is put together in a similar way with a number of younger, savvy producers working with her, you never know what might happen," he said.