"I wanna be a real, full woman," Sinéad O'Connor sings to begin her strong new studio record, "and live like a real, full woman every day."
For anyone in this age of tweet-sized self-presentation, that's a goal more easily stated than accomplished. But such nuance seems especially elusive for O'Connor, who has spent the past few years contending with a rapidly narrowing public persona.
Frank blog posts about her carnal appetite, a quickie Las Vegas wedding, a feud with Miley Cyrus regarding the sexualizing of young pop stars — each helped to replace the idea of a soulful, complicated singer-songwriter with that of an off-her-rocker crazy person. When O'Connor blamed her mental state for canceling a tour behind 2012's pointedly titled "How About I Be Me (And You Be You)?" the perception only solidified.
Two years later, though, a lifelike fullness of expression is precisely what the singer delivers on her 10th full-length "I'm Not Bossy, I'm the Boss." The album doesn't sprawl thematically; its dozen songs are about love and sex, even the ones titled "James Brown" and "The Vishnu Room."
But O'Connor, now 47, thinks about the subject in so many ways: as a healing force in "Your Green Jacket," a mortal danger in "Where Have You Been?" and in the sly "Kisses Like Mine," a kind of philanthropic endeavor for partners in need of reassurance.
"See, I'm special forces," she sings, "They call me in after divorces to lift you up."
In contrast with more tightly arranged records like 2005's reggae-based "Throw Down Your Arms," "I'm Not Bossy" roams stylistically to match O'Connor's shifting viewpoint, from the lush R&B of opener "How About I Be Me" to the taut garage rock of "Dense Water Deeper Down."
"8 Good Reasons" rides a swinging hip-hop groove, while "James Brown" — about how the singer came to get down — is acoustic funk with a rippling sax solo by Seun Kuti. (Another high-profile guest, Brian Eno, plays keyboards on the album, though the liner notes don't specify which tunes.)
Will the result enable O'Connor to move beyond her stifling reputation? She's probably less optimistic than I am, given that she claims in one song to have been "wrecked by the business." But this funny, convincing, unembarrassed collection proves she's no cartoon.
"I'm Not Bossy, I'm the Boss"
3 stars out of 4
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