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Sinead O'Connor

"The Value of Ignorance" is taken from a live recording on June 3rd 1988 at The Dominion Theatre in London and "The Year of The Horse" was recorded over two nights in October 1990 at the Forest National in Brussels and Ahoysportpaleis in Rotterdam.

"The Value of Ignorance" mostly covers material from O'Connor's sensational 1987 debut album "The Lion & the Cobra", where she synthesized her influences into her own ethereal, atmospheric sound, enveloped in tortured passion.

Rated NR

Fullscreen 1.33:1
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English PCM Stereo
Not Closed-captioned

Runtime: 104 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 1/13/2004

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Sinead O'Connor Live: The Value Of Ignorance + The Year Of The Horse (2003)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (Febraury 5, 2004)

For a while there at the start of the Nineties, Sinead O’Connor looked like she just might earn “next big thing” status. Her 1987 album The Lion and the Cobra didn’t make much of a dent on the charts, but it received good critical attention and set her up as a distinctive new voice. Highlighted by her cover of the Prince-penned “Nothing Compares 2 U” – a track first found on the 1985 eponymous debut from the Family – 1990’s I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got made O’Connor a legitimate star.

And then it all collapsed. O’Connor’s eccentricities submerged her. From concerts during which she left the stage in a snit after 20 minutes to weepy interviews to the infamous Saturday Night Live appearance at which she tore up a picture of the Pope, O’Connor became better known for her apparent emotional issues than for her music. This even led to an embarrassing incident at a 1992 Bob Dylan tribute concert; mostly due to her anti-Pope behavior, the audience booed her off the stage and left her in tears.

None of that makes a dent on this new O’Connor DVD, since all its material comes from earlier days. This program packages two separate pieces together. Shot in London on June 3, 1988, The Value of Ignorance finds O’Connor right at the start of her career. For the second program, we jump ahead almost two and a half years. The Year of the Horse comes from two separate performances: a Brussels show on October 29, 1990, and a Rotterdam concert from October 30, 1990.

Some musical overlap occurs between the two programs. Two Cobra songs show up in both concerts: “Jerusalem” and “Troy”. Another Got track appears at both performances: “I Am Stretched On Your Grave”. Otherwise, the two shows split pretty distinctly between the two albums. Seven of the eight songs in Ignorance come from Cobra; only “Grave” appears on the then future Got. The 1990 album presents eight of Horse’s 12 tunes. In addition to “Jerusalem” and “Troy”, Cobra gives us “I Want Your (Hands On Me”. We also get a traditional number called “Irish Ways”.

Out of all her releases, I only own Cobra, so musically, my interests resided primarily in Ignorance. Too bad the 37-minute program rendered the concert virtually unwatchable. The image consisted mostly of two different elements. We saw black and white shots of Sinead onto which various graphics and effects have been superimposed. Sometimes this meant we watched images of forests and trees, while others depicted odd visions of color and light.

Perhaps this was intended to spice up a simple production, but it failed miserably. For one, it’d be nice to see that someone else stands on stage with Sinead, but we almost never detected any band members. In addition, the presentation absolutely botched its attempt to convey the feeling of a live performance. I got no sense whatsoever of what it was like to see this concert.

Musically, the show seemed fine, though I must admit I often questioned whether or not the recording actually came from a live performance. Yeah, we heard crowd noise at times, but that doesn’t mean that judicious overdubs didn’t occur. All I know is that the show rarely sounded live; it usually came across as a studio performance and just didn’t give me that live feeling.

Part of this came from the fact that most of the songs closely emulated their album versions. Some differences occurred; for instance, “Mandinka” featured drum fills not present on the studio rendition. Otherwise, it usually seemed difficult to discern variations between the album takes and these. Add that to the bland and nearly unwatchable visuals and Ignorance came as a disappointment.

I possessed lowered expectations for the 67-minute Horse simply because I never liked that material as much. If I recall correctly, I did once own I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, but I didn’t care for it and ditched it. Since Horse consisted mainly of Got songs, I thought I’d find little to enjoy in this show.

While I continue to prefer Cobra as an album, I found a fair amount to like about the shows presented in Horse. Part of that comes from my relief that the director actually had the good sense to depict the concerts in a straightforward manner. It lost all the weirdness of Ignorance and portrayed the material in a direct and accurate way. Yeah, it relied a little too much on quick-cutting, but those instances usually fit with the songs. I actually felt like I was watching a live performance, and the DVD made the show look exciting and involving.

I found myself quite surprised at how well O’Connor came across on stage. I always figured she’d provide an introverted and bland presence as a live performance. Instead, Horse found her as a fine frontwoman. She really owned the stage as she danced and declaimed. Stylish, sexy, and in control, I saw a side of O’Connor I didn’t think existed. She even joked with the audience a little!

Musically, Horse also seemed superior to Ignorance. Again, I preferred the songs of the latter, but at least the former came across as an actual live performance and I felt like a band played the tunes on stage, not in a studio. All of these factors helped make Horse a surprisingly winning and entertaining concert video.

The DVD Grades: Picture C/ Audio C (DD) B (PCM)/ Bonus F

Sinead O’Connor: The Value of Ignorance/The Year of the Horse appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Since the DVD presented two totally separate programs, I’ll discuss them individually.

It was extremely difficult to rate the visual quality of Ignorance since it offered such an intentionally odd piece. Sharpness looked adequate, but due to all the superimpositions and jerky camerawork, it was hard to tell. Some very soft shots occurred, but as usually, these mostly seemed intentional; a few appeared to stem from the low-res source video, but this issue remained as murky as the picture itself. Were there jagged edges and moiré effects? Not many that I could see, though some harshness popped up from the effects. I also failed to detect edge enhancement, but who knows what lurked beneath all the weirdness? In addition, I didn’t sense any source flaws, at least not of the unintentional form; much of the image looked messy and grainy, but that clearly was done on purpose.

The smattering of colors seemed runny and messy, but once again, this was intentional. Blacks appeared acceptably dense and dark, though they varied. What can I say? The image looked pretty bad, but I couldn’t fault the transfer. The source material never gave it the opportunity to look good, so I awarded it a “D+”.

While the image of Horse won’t win any awards, it seemed reasonably satisfying, especially after the horrors of Ignorance. Sharpness usually appeared solid, but those elements varied. More than a few shots came across as moderately soft and ill defined. Nonetheless, the program usually maintained decent definition and clarity. I noticed no issues with shimmering, but some jagged edges cropped up at times. Edge enhancement seemed absent. A smattering of source flaws appeared. I noticed occasional examples of specks and small hairs, but these usually didn’t occur.

Colors focused almost entirely on lighting. O’Connor and her band wore black, so without the lights, this would have ended up as a monochrome presentation. The hues looked reasonably accurate, though they tended toward some slight runniness at times. Blues seemed especially diffuse and moderately problematic, though I thought they were generally fine for a program of this genre and vintage. Blacks mostly came across as deep and dense; some light inkiness occasionally gave them less heft than I’d like, but not to a great degree. The low-light shots appeared reasonably clean and well defined. Ultimately, Horse earned a decent “B-“ for picture, which left the DVD as a whole with an average of “C”.

Both Ignorance and Horse offered Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks along with the original PCM stereo mixes. The 5.1 audio lacked much force or impact. The soundfield stayed heavily oriented toward the front channels and offered pretty good stereo delineation within that realm. Vocals stayed nicely centered and the sparse instrumentation showed up in appropriate places. Those elements showed nice spread and delineation overall. The surrounds contributed some minor echoing of the forward spectrum but added little to the mix.

In regard to its quality, the 5.1 track came across as somewhat rinky-dink. Vocals were concise and crisp but seemed a little thin. Instrumentation suffered from an excessive emphasis on the mid-range elements. Bass response existed but sounded too boxy and flat. Highs were a little timid as well and didn’t present great definition. Instead, the midrange dominated and gave the audio a thick feel that didn’t suit the songs terribly well. The sound never seemed bad and remained fairly average, but it never impressed.

On the other hand, the original stereo mix worked quite well. It demonstrated similarly positive imaging that placed the vocals and instruments in the right locations. Dynamic range appeared much stronger and more accurately represented the original material. Vocals were more forceful and firm, and highs generally sounded distinctive and lively. Bass response appeared much richer and more forceful, with low-end that came across as reasonably tight and full. Horse was somewhat boomy in that regard, and its highs also appeared a little rougher. While the 5.1 track merited no better than a “C”, the stereo mix earned a substantially higher “B”.

No supplements appear on the Sinead O’Connor DVD. However, given the fact that the set includes two separate programs, I don’t regard that as a problem.

Although it seems like a mixed bag, Sinead O’Connor fans likely will enjoy this combination of her The Value of Ignorance and The Year of the Horse concert videos. Ignorance includes the best songs but suffers from poor production choices. The music of Horse seems less compelling, but the concerts themselves are much better shot and offer a substantially more entertaining experience. The DVD presents fairly average picture when I factor in the two productions, while the audio appears pretty good, at least when I consider the 5.1 tracks; the original stereo mixes sound considerably stronger. The set includes no extras, but since it presents two separate programs, this doesn’t seem like an issue. Despite its flaws, this package gives us a good cross-section of early Sinead O’Connor and should be of interest to established fans and newbies alike.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.5 Stars Number of Votes: 14
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