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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

The musician Sinead O'Connor will probably never have a moment quite like the one in which she ripped up a photo of Pope John Paul II on Saturday Night Live. That was in 1992 - a long time ago. The 47-year-old singer is now on her 10th studio album. This one's called "I'm Not Bossy, I'm The Boss." It features her signature soft vocals and fiery attitude, but not her signature shaved head on the album cover. O'Connor wears a sleek black wig. Sinead O'Connor joined me from the BBC Studios in London, and I asked her about that cover image.

SINEAD O'CONNOR: It's not so much that it's sexy, it's that, oh, my God, look at her looking like a female.

WERTHEIMER: (Laughter) I thought maybe it was a shout out to Cher.

O'CONNOR: No, it was really just a publicity stunt if I'm 100 percent honest is to draw attention to the album which it did nicely. But it was more based on guess what Sinead O'Connor looks like when she makes an effort. You know?

WERTHEIMER: (Laughter) You call the album "I'm Not Bossy, I'm The Boss." That's borrowing from Sheryl Sandberg, the woman who wrote the book "Lean In" - Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook.

O'CONNOR: Mmhmm.

WERTHEIMER: Were you interested in her? Were you interested in what she said? I mean, do you sort of see this as something that you started and somebody else is taking it up?

O'CONNOR: I'll tell you what it was with me is that in the music industry - male and female artists - we are traditionally treated as if we're working for the people who are actually working for us. When you're female, you don't want to go along with everyone else's agenda, and you want them to just do it the way you want them to do it. You get treated like you're being difficult. And of course, they can never explain what easy is. And what I am, really, is someone who - I knew nothing about the campaign or Sheryl but - and I know the campaign was directed at young girls. But it actually caused me, as a female boss, to take my power.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "8 GOOD REASONS")

O'CONNOR: (Singing) I had a dream one night about a bullet and a red light.

WERTHEIMER: That track is called "8 Good Reasons," and you describe that as the most autobiographical on the recording.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "8 GOOD REASONS")

O'CONNOR: (Singing) You know I love to make music, but my head got wrecked by the business. Everybody wants something from me. They rarely ever want to just know me. I became the stranger no one sees. Cut glass, I've crawled upon my knees.

WERTHEIMER: One of the things you talk about is you say you know I love to make music, but my head got wrecked by the business.

O'CONNOR: Yeah, you know, it's - I mean, look, I love making music, and I always will love making music. But most musicians will tell you, you know, we're in it because we love music. Everybody else is there because they love money, and that can take a while to get used to.

WERTHEIMER: Let's listen to a little bit of the song "Harbour."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "HARBOUR")

O'CONNOR: (Singing) She is a harbor and has not harbored.

WERTHEIMER: So tell us about this song.

O'CONNOR: Well, I mean, to some extent, it's important not to explain what songs are about because you spoil it for the audience in a way. That, you know, it's important that the audience be able to project onto the songs and imagine that it's about them. You know?

Having said that, there's some characters on the record. And there's one character on this record who's on a particular sort of self discovery journey, if you like, of - via romance - of this person realizing it was themselves they were longing for all along, as such. This character - I sort of created a situation where the fellow that she's sort of romanticizing about has asked her about some marks that he's found on her. And this is her way of explaining.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "HARBOUR")

O'CONNOR: (Singing) Go ahead, call it my heart. But it's not all my unwell, broken 14-year-old girl hasn't been allowed to tell what I should...

WERTHEIMER: You spent a lot of time on your earlier recordings kind of going over things that had happened to you - your past, your unhappiness or your rebellion. Your songs seem to come from a place of fairly - a fairly tormented place in many ways. But now you're, you know, as you were talking about - characters. You're writing about other people, other things, other plots.

O'CONNOR: Well, the thing is that my - I suppose the platform from which I write songs changed. And when I was younger, my platform was the following. I grew up in a severely abusive situation, and my mother being the perpetrator - sexual, physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual abuse. And so much of child abuse is about being voiceless, and that it's a wonderfully healing thing to be able to just make sounds to voice all of those things.

So anyway, I wrote songs, and I got on with it. And I did it. And I got all the stuff off my chest. And then what happened was a wonderful synchronicity, I started to get sent a whole lot of movie scripts and being asked to write about movies. And what happens was I got in the habit of writing songs from the point of view of characters. Now it was a bit like being a puppet master, you know, they have the elements of yourself, but it wouldn't really be yourself.

(SOUNDBITE OF SINEAD O'CONNOR SONG)

O'CONNOR: (Singing) It looks to me like you were caught between two or three worlds. I am, too. Is it OK to say I see some of myself in you?

O'CONNOR: You can tell a whole story - and I'm from the '70s where an album was a whole story. It was usually a journey. And it wasn't about one song or about separate songs. You would buy an album. You would listen top to bottom. And that's what I wanted to do with this record, create a kind of - this central female character who turns up in a lot more songs than the others who is having this conversation with this very present man even though you don't hear from him. You know?

WERTHEIMER: There's a sort of a musical conversation on one song here on this album. It's called "James Brown." It features musician Seun Kuti. He's the youngest son of the Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti.

O'CONNOR: Mmhmm.

WERTHEIMER: One of the things that you have done in recent years is collaborate with other people - Wyclef Jean, U2, Peter Gabriel, Moby.

O'CONNOR: If somebody comes to me with a great song, I'm going to sing it as much as if Elvis came to me with a great song. Do you know what I mean? Songs will do that. I love songs so bad. I don't care where they come from, what style they are, anything.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "JAMES BROWN")

O'CONNOR: (Singing) I know I may look a little square. I know I love my life. I wouldn't share. But I got all, oh, yeah.

WERTHEIMER: We just heard Seun Kuti playing the horn. Now how did that come about?

O'CONNOR: I wanted to get a horn player on this record. But I love "The Aristocats" movie, and I'm particularly - this is what made me want to be a musician - the song called "Everybody Wants To Be A Cat" which you might play, indeed.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "EVERYBODY WANTS TO BE A CAT")

SCATMAN CROTHERS: (Singing as Scat Cat) Everybody wants to be a cat.

O'CONNOR: And the guy - there's some great lines in it where the guy's talking about, you know, a square with the horn can make you wish you weren't born.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "EVERYBODY WANTS TO BE A CAT")

CROTHERS: (Singing as Scat Cat) A square with a horn makes you wish you weren't born every time he plays.

O'CONNOR: I feel a bit like that. There are too many dreadful saxophone players. So I really - I wanted horns on the track, but I really was terrified of even asking 'cause I couldn't think who could play it that it wouldn't be horrific. And Seun was like an absolute dream come true. I didn't even imagine a person could play a horn like that. I had never heard him play, and I was like, oh, my God.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "JAMES BROWN")

WERTHEIMER: Now I thought we might go out on the recording of "Take Me To Church." The title gives you such a funny idea of what the song is about.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "TAKE ME TO CHURCH")

O'CONNOR: (Singing) I don't want to love the way I loved before. I don't want to love that way no more. What have I been writing love songs for?

O'CONNOR: Take me to church is a reference to the song in "My Fair Lady" which the main character's father sings the night before he goes to get married.

WERTHEIMER: Take me to the church on time.

O'CONNOR: Get me to the church on time. Get me to the church on time. So this is my central character - it's her eureka moment, really. She understands that love is not something that hurts. You know, where she - really the most important thing that she says on this record in the series of conversations is I'm the only one I should adore.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "TAKE ME TO CHURCH")

O'CONNOR: (Singing) I'm the only one I should adore. Oh, take me to church. I've done so many bad things that hurt. Yeah, take me to church.

WERTHEIMER: Sinead O'Connor's new recording is called "I'm Not Bossy, I'm The Boss." Thank you so much for doing this.

O'CONNOR: Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "TAKE ME TO CHURCH")

O'CONNOR: (Singing) Yeah, take me to church. Oh, take me to church. I've done so many bad things that hurt.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's corrections are posted at npr.org/corrections. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

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