Songs of Mass Destruction
ew thoughts are less worth contemplating than Annie Lennox as a woman with feelings and such. As the singer for Eurythmics—still the most misunderstood member of that very ‘80s nomenclature, the multi-platinum synth-pop duo—Lennox enacted partner David Stewart’s reified genre hopping with nary a tobacco stain on her immaculate teeth. Lennox, to her credit, let Stewart’s hair grow to ridiculous proportions while she remained aloof from him and the songs that seemed more uninhabited as the duo’s U.S. commercial fortunes waned. Assuring us that she was "cooler than ice cream" in 1983, she sure kept her promise.
Before you ask why I’m chiding Lennox for sins we should rightly pin on one David Bowie, it’s worth remembering that Lennox can sing. To date, she’s the only white performer of the last thirty years to survive a duet with Aretha Franklin, which looks more impressive than it is. While multi-octave propulsion has its merits, for Lennox and too many of her fans (talk to the average Miami gay man) it signifies “quality,” “class,” and, of course, “soul.” The eighties were a curious time for soul, especially if you were British: the more you wanted it, the bigger the strain. However, she needed restless arrangements like Stewart’s to unleash her power. Lennox didn’t need restraint—on tracks like “There Must Be An Angel (Playing With My Heart)” and “Here Comes the Rain Again” her voice was the aural equivalent of Stewart’s vulgar keyboards. She was Plant to Stewart’s Page. There was soul for those fans who sought it, Taj Majal kitsch for the rest of us.
Although 2005’s Eurythmics compilation retains its spritz, their videos will likely be their lasting achievement, in which Lennox’s rummaging through images of femininity matched her and Stewart’s schizophrenic notions of “realness"; they must have thought that sooner or later she'd find the right snug identity to slip into. The astonishing clips for 1987’s “You Have Placed a Chill In My Heart” and the solo 1993 single "Little Bird" show an artist whose cinematic instincts vastly outpace songwriting ingenuity (the weary shopping housewife sequence in "You Have Placed A Chill..." is the most heartbreaking moment of Lennox's career). Even more than Madonna, Lennox's solo output shrivels beside their marketing. As the showbiz tart on Diva, a karma chameleon on Medusa (1995), and a Scary Monsters-esque Pierrot mime on Bare (2003), she was flashier and grander than the adult contemporary plod she was promoting, some of which was pretty decent ("Walking On Broken Glass" was a deserved hit) but irrelevant anyway; she's long since entered the rarified Sade camp of waiting six years between multiplatinum albums.
Since her claque assumes she's a compelling recording artist and her videos rarely get played anymore, we must concentrate on the music, and fourth solo album Songs of Mass Destruction, whose title promises more anarchy than any of the tunes contained therein, will likely satisfy those who want Lennox's work to "mean" something. The arrangements, anchored by Lennox's piano (a sure sign of an artist embracing accepted female singer-songwriter tropes), are crisp and "traditional," like an updated version of Eurythmics' 1986 AOR move Revenge, only without the awesome galumphing hysteria of "Missionary Man" or "Let's Go"; as an Academy Award-winning songwriter, she has to show some dignity. To that end, she's lined up "Through the Glass Darkly" and "Love Is Blind" for those who long for an arch Sarah MacLachlan, which may not be as terrible as it sounds. Expect an enterprising remixer to unleash "Colored Bedspread"'s discreet sequencers into gay clubs worldwide. Nod obligingly as "Big Sky" tips a bowler hat towards Kate Bush and not a note more. The only song worth a second listen is "Smithereens," whose lyrics tease more filigrees out of being a fiftysomething woman dealing with the ambiguities of evolving relationships than her peers are capable of. It's worthy of the ardency of her fanbase.
Oh, but how I wish Lennox was still capable of bad taste. She comes tantalizingly close on "Sing," which features the vocal talents of—are you ready for this?—Celine Dion, Beth Orton, Fergie, Shakira, Gladys Knight, and a Bay City native named Madonna, among others, lending support to an innocuous Staples Sisters-meets-"Sisters Are Doin' It for Themselves" hybrid that really should have been the long-awaited sequel to Donna Summer's Vangelis-written 1982 "State of Independence," a slice of one-world New Age drivel (featuring, in case you forgot, Stevie Wonder, Kenny Loggins, and Dyan Cannon yelling over a Toto backbeat). It should soar, but Lennox hasn't written enough of a song to get these artists airborne. Here's hoping the video compensates.