I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got
The trouble with a song like “Nothing Compares 2 U”—the song that would turn Sinéad O’Connor’s 1990 album I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got into a global smash—is that it threatens to outshine everything around it. That’s not the story here. But in turning what on paper was a conventional ballad into a font of both shame and rage, O’Connor reconciled the poise of soul with the messiness of punk in ways that felt surprising, maybe even unprecedented. A beautiful song, no doubt—and all the moreso for how traumatized it sounds. Originally written by Prince, and included on the mostly forgotten album by his affiliate band The Family, O’Connor sang it in memory of her abusive mother. “I didn’t take the news happily,” she wrote of the song’s success. “Instead, I cried like a child before the gates of hell.” The follow-up to The Lion and the Cobra, O’Connor’s acclaimed 1987 debut, I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got is a challenging listen. The songs are slower, the arrangements sparer, and the writing more confrontational. She tackles miscarriage on “Three Babies” (“I have wrapped your cold bodies around me”). She examines nation and race on “Black Boys on Mopeds” (“England’s not the mythical land of Madame George and roses/It’s the home of police who kill Black boys on mopeds”). You get the sense she’s trying to drag listeners through these dark spaces, and that the polished contours of her sound—the New Age soul of “Nothing Compares,” the proto trip-hop of “I Am Stretched On Your Grave”—aren’t meant as shelter from the truth she so passionately seeks. None of this prevented I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got from topping the US charts for six weeks. Though O’Connor’s landmark sophomore album was, in many ways, too rough for adult contemporary audiences—and too sophisticated for “alternative” fans—she managed to conquer both, thanks to naked honesty and sheer force of will.