You might have heard: In the past few months, Sinead O’Connor, the owner of one indelible Prince cover and two decades’ worth of tabloid baggage, got married, separated and reunited with her husband, and often appeared on the verge of a very public breakdown, all documented in a steady stream of scandalous tweets.
Add to that one breathtakingly good, incredibly awkward new album. “How About I Be Me (And You Be You)?,” O’Connor’s ninth full-length and probably her best since her 1990 breakthrough, “I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got,” is a wide-ranging folk album that’s as open as a wound. It’s a big, brave, brazen release that does its job: It drapes a bare skeleton of music — Celtic-inspired mid-tempo ballads, mostly — over the singer’s confessional compositions. It’s painful to listen to, and beautiful. O’Connor knows neither self-censorship nor the virtues of allegory, so “I Had a Baby” is pretty much a song about how she had a baby with a guy she barely knew, and the baby looks kind of mean like his absent father, and she wishes things weren’t so nuts, but what can she do? “I was crazy,” she half-whispers, in her Kate-Bush-met-Marilyn voice. “I was always crazy.”
“How About” contains a handful of great Going to the Chapel tracks, including the exuberant opener, “4th and Vine,” in which O’Connor sings about putting on eyeliner and a dress as if she were discussing visiting a distant planet. But to know O’Connor’s history is to expect disaster around every corner, and every giddy bridal ballad has its solemn counterpart: The disc concludes with the too-long “V.I.P.,” an almost a cappella scold about the dangers of materialism (don’t think your Manolos will get you into heaven, O’Connor warns, because Jesus is not having it) . It almost, but not quite, ruins the mood.