“Drink Before the War” by Sinéad O’Connor 

The best way of understanding Sinéad O’Connor’s “Drink Before the War” is as it being addressed from the oppressed to the oppressor, or in the latter regard someone whom the vocalist has deemed is complicit and participant in her oppression. 

It has been suggested that O’Connor is speaking to the struggle for (Northern) Irish independence from the United Kingdom. This is a subject she is known to be quite passionate about. But there are not any types of specific references made in the lyrics. Owing to that, we will take it as if she is harping on a more general concept, even if inspired by the specific plight of her people.

So with that premise in mind, we can say the secondary focus of this song is the hubris, so to speak, of the oppressor. For instance, in the first verse, the addressee is depicted as desiring the vocalist to comply to his subjugation, in a joyous fashion even. But the way the latter perceives the situation is that her oppressor simply does not possess any type of sympathy. Thus any measure he institutes in the name of mending the relationship between himself and the vocalist is intrinsically flawed.

The cockiness of the addressee is further manifested the first pre-chorus. Here, it is illustrated that this figure thinks he’s invincible due to his own piety and strength. In other words, he feels justified in what he’s doing to the vocalist. And even if justice fails, the insinuation is that he’ll rely on good ol’ fashioned physical force to exert his will.

A Privileged Addressee

And the lengthy second verse initially reveals why the addressee thinks this way. He has been the recipient of a privileged, lofty life that has put him out of touch with reality. But Sinead is convinced that his time will come. Or viewed differently, the addressee is a propagator of war. So it’s only a matter of time before karma, if you will, catches up with him.

The following pre-chorus is slightly different from the first. This time around, the addressee is telling the vocalist, basically, to stop threatening him with the prospect of war. Such threats aren’t anything he hasn’t dealt with in the past. Furthermore, he tells Sinead and her ilk that overall he doesn’t seem intimidated by them. So instead, what the addressee is advising is that they go out and “do something useful” as opposed to entertaining what he perceives as the unrealistic notion of them achieving freedom.

“Drink Before the War”

Meanwhile, it is in the chorus proper where we find the titular phrase. O’Connor is a highly poetic artist, and as such it isn’t stated explicitly what the title is supposed to mean. But with “the man in the liquor store” vigorously asking others nearby if they “want to drink before the war”, the implication is that these people are used to such hardship. 

That is to say that the prospect of war clearly isn’t shaking this man or others in the vicinity, seeing how casually, if you will, they are taking the matter at hand.

Sinéad O'Connor, "Drink Before the War"


So again, it is reasonable to conclude that O’Connor based this song on her own people, the Irish, in relation to the UK, which has sorta been persistent imperialistic presence in their modern history. 

But it can also be deemed that she’s singing on behalf of any such country or individual who is in a similar predicament, being dominated by a conceited superior power who, most simply put, will not leave them alone.

But the said, the character(s) whom the vocalist is portraying is not the submissive type. Thus war with said power not only seems inevitable but also, by the looks of things, may be a recurring theme in the recent history of her and her people.

Facts about “Drink Before the War”

“Drink Before the War” is one of the songs which Ensign Records and Chrysalis Records released as part of Sinead O’Connor’s album “The Lion and the Cobra” on 4 November 1987. 

It was not released as one of the single from that project. But as for the album itself, it broke the top 40 of the Billboard 200 and the top 30 of the UK Albums Chart. The project was supported by the following singles:

  • “Troy”
  • “Mandinka”
  • “I Want Your (Hands on Me)”

This track was written and co-produced by Sinead O’Connor, who has always been an artist with a revolutionary slant. And its other producer, who also co-produced the entirety of “The Lion and the Cobra”, is Kevin Moloney.

In 2022, some 35 years after “Drink Before the War” was released, it gained worldwide popularity. This happened as a result of the track being featured on a popular teen-based HBO show by the name of Euphoria. The tune was actually ranked as one of the best songs  featured in the second season of that series.

Drink Before the War

4 Responses

  1. jack mehoff says:

    my favy by her

  2. Anonymous says:

    This song resonates with more people than you know.

  3. Crystal says:

    ❤️I remember now

  4. Anonymous says:

    Sinead is a brilliant artist and singer. This album resonated with me in 1987 and still resonates with me. I wish her there love and peace she has never seemed to find.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *