Sinead O'Connor's "I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got" was one of the great albums of the 1990s, a fearlessly introspective work that belongs alongside such other landmark collections as John Lennon's "Plastic Ono Band" and Joni Mitchell's "Blue."
The album, which included O'Connor's absorbing version of Prince's "Nothing Compares 2 U," was a bestseller that positioned the Irish singer-songwriter for worldwide stardom. But a crusading spirit -- speaking out against such matters as religious hypocrisy and child abuse -- and her far-ranging musical interests prevented her from following through on that opening. The result is that O'Connor might be remembered today more for her public confrontations than her music.
One of the benefits of a new edition of the album is that it could help put the spotlight back on her artistry. Almost two decades later, the work still sounds gripping and heartfelt.
Besides the original album, the new, limited edition set, released last week, also offers a second disc of rarities and previously unreleased tracks.
"I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got (Limited Edition)"
The background: O'Connor arrived on the pop scene in the late-1980s, her shaved head making for striking photographs and her outspoken comments attracting lots of media attention. Though her debut collection, "The Lion and the Cobra," earned her some fans in this country, it was her second album in 1990 that established her as one of the most compelling new arrivals in rock in ages. The CD sold 2 million copies in the U.S. and spent six weeks at No. 1. She was 23.
"I Do Not Want" was filled with tales of faith and betrayal, confession and redemption so intimate and unguarded you often felt you were eavesdropping -- such as in "The Last Day of Our Acquaintance," which centered on the bitter goodbyes of a couple in a lawyer's office.
In "The Emperor's New Clothes," she warned that her raw honesty might make some people uncomfortable: "Maybe it sounds mean / But I really don't think so / You asked me for the truth and I told you."
O'Connor hasn't come close to the Top 10 in this country since "I Do Not Want," partially because she moved away from the graceful mainstream style of that album to record a CD of torch songs and another of traditional Irish music.
She was hurt commercially by occasional confrontations -- refusing in 1990 to allow the national anthem to be played before a concert in New Jersey and tearing up a photo of Pope John Paul II during a "Saturday Night Live" appearance in 1992. She even withdrew from the 1991 Grammy Awards -- attacking the music industry for promoting "false and materialistic values."
When I asked O'Connor about her turbulent image in 1990, she declared, "If people say I seem to be aggressive, well, Jesus. I believe I have a lot of reason to be aggressive. It's why I write the kind of songs I do and why I am the kind of person I am. It's why I think it's wrong to brush things under the carpet. The important thing is to express ourselves so that we understand ourselves and each other better."
The music: In addition to the original album, the limited edition re-release contains 10 bonus tracks, including a poignant rendition of the Christmas carol "Silent Night," a moving interpretation of Cole Porter's "You Do Something to Me" and a fiery take on John Lennon's "Mind Games," which was produced by Daniel Lanois.
These additional tracks further underscore why anyone touched by the tenderness of "I Do Not Want" should catch up with some of O'Connor's other releases. She is high on the short list of great artists of the rock era -- and there is at least a touch of that greatness on every album she has made.
Nowhere, however, is her talent more evident than on "I Do Not Want."
Backtracking is a monthly column devoted to CDs and other pop music items of historical interest.