Song 279: Sinéad O’Connor, “Nothing Compares 2 U” (1990)


“Nothing Compares 2 U” is one of those songs that immediately brings back memories from my childhood. Before I was old enough to say cliché things like that, such sentiments always sounded ridiculous to me, but no: that’s exactly what happens. It’s amazing how evocative a song can be.

I don’t have memories of sitting around and listening to this song, but I do remember that it was everywhere: MTV, the radio, friends’ (and my sister’s) boomboxes. It was a song that everybody knew and loved, and after not hearing it for many years, I’m glad to have found that it hasn’t aged a day. I love that even Prince’s castoffs are amazing.

The only thing that sounds dated is that cold percussion, but even that seems to serve a larger purpose: this song may sound epic in some parts, but it’s also startlingly intimate (a tone emphasized by its iconic video), and the drums make O’Connor sound as sad and desperate as the song’s narrator. Overall, the production (credited to O’Connor, Nellee Hooper, Chris Birkett, and Sean Devitt) is perfect. I love the song’s strings, which are subtle but gorgeous, and the background vocals, which sound like an amateur choir, are an ingenious inclusion. It all sounds like it’s a melodrama in the narrator’s head, like she’s the star of her own movie.

O’Connor has some other good work in her catalog (I’m particularly fond of her album Faith and Courage), but “Nothing Compares 2 U” remains her most famous song for good reason.


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