Quintessential Album Series :: The Lion & The Cobra :: Sinead O’Connor
A Little History:
The Lion and the Cobra is the 1987 debut album by Irish singer Sinéad O’Connor. O’Connor, age 20 at the time, recorded the album while heavily pregnant with her first child.
The photograph of O’Connor on the album cover was taken by Haysi Fantayzee member Kate Garner. The U.S. cover differed from the European release, as it was felt a more subdued pose would present a “softer” image of O’Connor.
The video for Mandinka was shown heavily after debuting in January of 1988, on 120 Minutes on MTV. The single was a mainstream pop hit in the UK, peaking at # 17 in the singles chart, as well as her native Ireland. I Want Your (Hands On Me) debuted in May 1988 on the same show, featuring a rap interlude by MC Lyte. The song was featured in the 1988 horror film A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master.
The album featured prominent session musicians John Reynolds on drums, former Adam and the Ants and Siouxsie and the Banshees guitarist Marco Pirroni and Mike Clowes from Friction Groove on keyboards.
The title of the album is from Psalm 91:13 “you will tread upon the lion and cobra“, and the track Never Get Old opens with an Irish language recital of Psalm 91 by singer Enya.
The album sold 2,500,000 copies worldwide.
Slant Magazine listed the album at # 46 on its list of “Best Albums of the 1980’s saying “The Lion and the Cobra is regal, majestic, and allegorical, an album rife with images of war, slain dragons, and ghosts, and it’s one of the most electrifying debuts in rock history“.
I remember I Want Your (Hands On Me) being spun often at some of the clubs I haunted in the late 80’s. Underground, they were called, before Raves were ever a thing. this one was a popular choice on Wednesday nights, and I would spin around the smoky dance floor, my blood stream abuzz with chemicals and cheap wine, feeling all that pent up desire that this song proclaims come bubbling to my surfaces.
The song, her voice, it all made me want to feel something more. I wanted someone’s hands all over me, waking me up, lighting me up, sating the overwhelming ache of want that I possessed.
This was my first exposure to Sinead’s music.
The rest of the album soon became a part of me. The music fit who I was then, what my life was like, what I felt and wanted to feel.
It was the accompaniment to late nights, back alleys, unidentified side streets and non-marked buildings, the smell of clove cigarettes, smeared kohl eyeliner, black fishnet stockings, the sting and numbness magic powders would provide, and so much dancing.
Troy is my standout favorite, the song that means the most to me on this album, the song that tears me to shreds emotionally. It reminds me of things I have survived, things I have lost, scars I still carry inside that no one ever sees. It reminds me, too, that no matter what, no matter the pain and hurt from my past, I got to the other side and I keep keeping on. The song is a strength to me, even if it always brings me to tears.
My Top 5 Favorite Songs:
“Oh, I love you,
God, I love you.
I’d kill a dragon for you,
But, I will rise,
and I will return;
the Phoenix from the flame.”
You held me close to you, too close, the marks where your hands had been left imprints of blue and black long after the door slammed behind you. I lay there in shambles, in pieces, too weak to beg, but my heart sure wanted me to. You were done now, with me, with us, with all of it – I was nothing but decay and discard, left to die, but I was stronger than the pain, than the want, than my own good – and I would get up again.
“Ah, when you close my eyes, babe?
I can see most everything.”
The night went on for years it seemed, the air cloying and thick with smoke and sweat and unrelenting need. I had seen you for awhile, our eyes playing a catch and release game until all I wanted was to be caught. You took me from behind, pulling me in close, whispering “shut your eyes, sweet girl, and you’ll see everything.”
“You know that I can thrill you,
I want you call me to you,
I wanna move, will you?”
We slipped out the side door, down the road, around the corner, running hand-and-hand in the rain. I led the way, looking back now and then to take you in, desire permeating my every thought. We climbed into the driver’s seat, reclined, the steering wheel leaving marks in your back, but you didn’t seem to mind much, not with your hands all over me like that, playing some demon hymn on my close to bare skin.
“You wear the best clothes that I’ve ever seen,
I’ve seen your light and your poetry,
and it’s the best thing that there’s ever been.”
They all knew you by another name, the one on the album covers, the one on the outside marquee, but you told me to call you something only we would know. I felt out of place in the lights all around you, but you pulled me closer and told me that together we were brighter than the sun. I believed for only a little while, running into the headlights, into the dead of night, taking only that name and the memories with me.
“And I’ve been waiting all this time,
for my man to come take his hand in mine,
and lead me away to unseen shores.”
I love the story to this song. It reminds me of Kate Bush’s The Man With the Child in His Eyes, and of stories of lost love. I used to close my eyes and try to imagine this story in my head, the pictures moving and coming to life like a film playing on the back of my eyelids.