PHOTO CREDIT: Annie Lennox/Getty Images
Part Ten: Annie Lennox
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
I am featuring Aretha Franklin in this feature because, to me, she defines what an icon is: the grace and power she projected; the timelessness of her music and how her messages spread further than something commercial and obvious. In so many ways, she helped change the industry and provided the world with some of the most stirring songs ever. Although the Queen of Soul is no longer with us, she will continue to inspire and move people for decades to come. Today, I have been thinking a lot about Annie Lennox and how her music has impacted the music industry. Whether part of Eurythmics or as a solo artist, one cannot deny the sheer wonder of Annie Lennox’s voice. Born in 1957, Lennox caught the attention of the public in the late-1970s as part of the band, The Tourists. She was a member alongside future-Eurythmic Dave Stewart - and the two would go on to achieve huge acclaim and success through the 1980s. The 1980s was a wonderful and underrated decade and, to me, it is not defined by its great solo artists as it is bands. That might be a sweeping statement but, aside from a few obvious legends, I think more people talk about bands than the solo artist. Look at the greatest voices from the decade and, to me, Annie Lennox is right near the very top. If Eurythmics’ debut album, In the Garden, did not quite have the same impact and great reviews as their later work, it was a pretty impressive introduction and Lennox’s songwriting and vocal gifts were at the forefront.
I was born in 1983 and it was in that year when Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) was released to the world. The title track is one of the best-known tracks from the album and I think it is Lennon that makes it shine. Listen to the way she projects the lines and the emotions she puts into the song. Lesser singers would do a very straight rendition but Lennox has her own dynamic; much more an actor projecting lines; ensuring every ounce of emotion and intrigue is put into the song. SLANT, when reviewing the album in 2008, highlighted Lennox’s soulfulness and natural abilities:
“Not only did the Eurythmics’ breakthrough Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) give the genre a distinctly feminine voice, it helped give it soul, marrying the intentionally artificial, repetitive elements and robotic rhythms of techno to more organic sounds (a cornucopia of live flute, scat-like vocals, and synthesized organ creates a jungle milieu on the brief “I Have an Angel”; trumpets sound a lover’s forced departure on “The Walk”), not to mention Annie Lennox’s smooth, soulful voice. This was no more evident than in the title track (the album’s final single and the duo’s first U.S. hit), an ode to masochistic desire in which Lennox’s supple vocal takes on the stern, dominant tone of a taskmaster—and, mirroring the androgynous, Grace Jones-inspired dual personas of many of the group’s music videos, she is also the subordinate”.
Again, lesser bands would take a bit of a break before releasing another album - Eurythmics’ follow-up, Touch, came later that same year! With each album, Lennox was growing as a singer. Listen to Here Comes the Rain Again and the melodrama and cool vocals from Lennox turns the song into a masterpiece. There is no other singer that would give the track so much verve and personality, I feel. Contrast that was a slightly icier turn on Who’s That Girl and, whilst soulful and deep, Lennox adopts a different persona. Of course, the success of Eurythmics was down to the partnership and chemistry between Lennox and Stewart. With Stewart’s incredible compositional drive and direction, Lennox was free to roam in all manner of directions. An album like Touch does not stay still or have a singular sound. Right By Your Side is a more tropical, Caribbean vibe that shows how dexterous Lennox is as a performer. The 1980s was a huge and busy year for Eurythmics. Before 1985’s Be Yourself Tonight, the duo had already recorded a soundtrack (1984 (For the Love of Big Brother) and were riding a huge critical wave. Touch saw Lennox reach new peaks but I think her voice hit new plains on Be Yourself Tonight. There Must Be an Angel (Playing with My Heart) and Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves (with Aretha Franklin) are incredible songs and, when on the same track as Aretha Franklin, Annie Lennox does not sound inferior at all – she manages to match the Queen of Soul seamlessly.
The reviews, again, for Eurythmics’ music was impassioned. AllMusic, when reviewing Be Yourself Tonight, highlighted Annie Lennox’s incredible vocals:
“The second single, which was a huge chart topper in Europe, "There Must Be an Angel," is nothing short of shimmering beauty, with Lennox providing truly angelic vocals and Stevie Wonder lending an enchanting harmonica solo. Aretha Franklin lends her powerhouse pipes for the duet "Sisters Are Doin' It for Themselves," which has gone on to become an immortal feminist anthem. From the soulful electronic beats (a rarity) in "It's Alright (Baby's Coming Back)" to the beauty of the Elvis Costello duet "Adrian" to the pain and longing of the sorrowful rocker "Better to Have Lost in Love (Than Never to Have Loved at All)," this album runs a wide array of musical styles, each song standing tall on its own two feet”.
Perhaps Be Yourself Tonight was the last huge Eurythmics album – although 1986’s Revenge and 1987’s Savage had their share of fine moments. We Too Are One was the last album the duo recorded until 1999 and, in 1989, there were signs that Annie Lennon wanted to move in her own direction. Consider the big albums of 1989 and perhaps Eurythmics’ sound was not as striking and original as it once was; tastes where changing and, whilst Annie Lennox remained this pivotal force and unique singer, it was clear that a change was afoot.
I love Eurythmics and grew up listening to their music. Although I am a big fan of Dave Stewart, it has always been Annie Lennox’s lead that has won my heart. When she went solo, even though I was not even nine when her debut album was released (in April 1992), I latched onto her music and was transfixed. Entering a new decade, it would have been understandable if Lennox took a bit of time out and struggled to assimilate. Coming from a successful duo, Annie Lennox effortlessly mastered solo life. Diva is a classic and hugely memorable album that went to number-one in the U.K. charts and sold over a million copies in the U.K. alone. Diva won the Album of the Year award at the 1993 BRIT Awards and was nominated for Album of the Year at the Grammys that same year. Any album that opens with Why and Walking on Broken Glass is impressive but Diva is much more than the sum of its opening duo of tracks. In Eurythmics, Lennox had shown her vocal prowess and multiple sides; she was blossoming as a songwriter but I think her debut solo album unified everything and took her to new heights. SLANT, in this review, marks Diva as one of the finest albums of 1992:
“The song, "Why," is hardly the sort of melodramatic setting we'd imagine from an album whose very name evokes histrionic pretense. But Annie Lennox isn't and has never been a representative pop diva. Her body is lanky and angular instead of curvaceously plush. Her exaggerated facial features (capped off with a most spectacular set of cheekbones that she wisely never allowed her hair to grow long enough to cover) are matched in androgen-fabulousness only by her tremulously guttural alto.
The first album Lennox released after the Eurythmics called it quits, Diva's relative quietude is reflective of a woman in full awareness—if not complete control—of the occasional ostentation of her emotional whims. It's musically analogous to All About Eve's ferocious Margo Channing during those rare moments when she's alone and contemplating the social consequences of her violent temper. It speaks exactly what she (Margo, Annie, every woman…) wished she could convey, but the music underneath most of the album's tracks is filled with the rumbling turbulence that betrays her best intentions. Practically speaking, the music video for Lennox's baroque dance hit "Walking On Broken Glass" harnesses this stress to a T. Dressed in Amadeusboudoir finery (not to be confused with the Vegas headdress crowning Lennox on the album's disingenuously gaudy cover), the clip's heroine finds her flirtations ignored until she gets her paramour alone in her chambers. He mistakenly reads her interest as sexual heat and, outraged, she casts him away, banging her fist against the wall in synchronization to the song's rimshots. "Every one of us was made to suffer," she reasons. "Every one of us was made to weep." One of the most brilliant singles of the era, "Walking On Broken Glass" and its video cast a suspicious eye on the deliberate façade-maintenance of modern pop by playing up the same mixed signals that equips Diva with its power”.
1995’s Medusa is an album of cover versions but, unlike so many covers albums, Lennox seems to have a real attachment to each track and makes the music her own. No More I Love You’s is, perhaps, the best-known track from that album but some did find the choice of covers unusual and wrong-footed. It took until 2003 before another album came about. Bare is one of Lennox’s most affecting and emotion records ever. No singles were released in the U.K. and, whereas that might have meant commercial suicide, there wasn’t anything as immediate and chart-friendly as previous album. Bare is best enjoyed as a single experience; playing the songs together and seeing it as one body of work – rather than dividing songs and choosing certain ones for special treatment. Just when you thought Annie Lennox could not get better and more accomplished as a writer and singer, she managed to outdo herself on Bare. AllMusic summed up the album like this:
“But it's in the lyrical paradox where the grain of her voice goes straight for a truth and need that the listener almost feels she's peeled off one layer too many -- not hers, ours: "I wanna hold you/And be so held back/Don't wanna need you/But it's where I'm at/Thinkin' about you every day/How come I was made that way...God it makes me so blue/Every time I think about you/All of the heat of my desire/Smokin' like some crazy fire/Come on here/Look at me/Where I stand/Can't you see my heart burning in my hands?/Do you want me? Do you not?"
The previous track is a guitar-kissed ballad with limpid choruses that sear with the truth of having believed -- perhaps willingly -- each lie a lover ever told; it is destined to be played in every post-midnight, brokenhearted, half-empty bedroom for decades to come. And though the previous examples come from near the middle of the album, they don't begin to tell the whole story, as each track fits hand in glove with another. It not only can be taken as a whole, it must be, for it rains down on the heart of the listener with such a fierce life force, despite the depleted spirit exhibited in many of the cuts. There are no more words for the ravaged, triumphant Bare -- the truth of its fineness and devastating beauty is in the hearing”.
Annie Lennox’s most-recent album, 2014’s Nostalgia, is another covers album but one that fared better with critics. I do wonder whether Lennox has plans for another album because there is always that demand. It is not only her phenomenal music that leads me to believe she is a true icon. Lennox is a social activist and has raised money/awareness for AIDS/HIV (and how it has affected women and children in Africa). She was awarded an OBE in 2011 and constantly features in the lists of ‘greatest singers ever’. Small wonder that so many artists look up to her and she is revered so much.
One only needs to look at the awards Lennox has won and the accomplishments that makes her C.V. so hard to beat. In 2007, Lennox performed at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert in Oslo and she appeared the following year at Nelson Mandela’s 90th Birthday Tribute. In 2009, Lennox opened the Edinburgh Festival of Politics and condemned Pope Benedict XVI’s approach to AIDS and HIV prevention in Africa – the Pope denounced condoms and, quite rightly, Lennox highlighted how this was hugely irresponsible. Lennox received the Music Industry Trusts Award for her music and charity commitments in 2013 and, yet again, it was a well-deserved nod of recognition. Not only is Lennox a political and social activist but she is a big supporter of the L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+ community and, as a result, Lennox is a gay icon. From the eye-catching videos with Eurythmics through to her solo work, she has helped shape popular culture and change attitudes – alongside peers such as Madonna and Michael Stipe. Lennox, like all icons, is more than a musician. She strives to make the world a better place and affect change. She is not using her fame to get ahead and see change but, instead, tirelessly working and raising awareness where she can. As a feminist and activist, she has helped bring about discussion and break down walls. Before rounding things off, I want to bring up an interview Annie Lennox conducted in 2011.
She spoke with High Profiles and talked about her start as a singer and the importance of campaigning:
“Had your heart always been set on being a singer?
No. I always sang, always, but I never thought of it in any other terms than [being] just for my own pleasure. No, actually I was fairly proficient at the flute and I had an idea that I would become a classical flute-player; but the standard is so high and so specific, I quickly realised… You know, I was the best in my town, as it were, but there are hundreds of towns like that full of people who are far more gifted than you.
I get the impression that you were quite a shy person – and yet only a few years later you were this exuberant performer sporting a man’s suit and dyed orange hair…
Oh, I am a shy person. I’ve always been a shy person. I don’t think it’s that unusual to find that a performer off-stage is not the person you might assume they are. A stage persona allows you to work in a very different way from [what you are like] in normal circumstances.
Has campaigning made you less melancholy?
Well, if I’m less melancholy… I would say yes, I would definitely say so, because I have to say that the wake-up experience of being face-to-face with people who have absolutely nothing and then coming back to a Western world that is so fully resourced – whenever one might slip into a ‘Poor me!’ state, you’re swiftlyreminded that, wait a minute! this kind of pain – anguish – you bear is just negligible compared with people whose whole life…
PHOTO CREDIT: Mike Owen
If you were born into chronic abject poverty, you have a very small, small chance of getting out of it – that’s a fact. And the only way, the only way, you could possibly take a step towards, you know, the exit would be [through] education. But if you can’t get food in your belly to help you to concentrate through the day, that education isn’t going to help. And then if you get an education and you can’t get a job even so, that’s also a problem. The odds are so stacked against people, and that is – that’s the injustice that I can’t bear.
If you had to give up either the campaigning or the music, which would it be?
Well, that puts me in between a rock and a hard place, really. I would… I would be a campaigner, yeah. But at the moment I’m so fortunate because I can do many things, and so I’ll just continue doing what I do until I can’t do it any more.
And when you can’t do it any more? Does that worry you?
Ah, you mean getting older? Well, it is what it is. Does it worry me? I don’t think it helps to worry about getting older, so I tend not to – I look on it as a journey, and I think that I’m very fortunate to be 56 and to feel like a – you know, my mind is incredibly inspired and driven to engage with things that I feel passionately about.
I mean, I’ve lived a long life and I’ve had the benefit of youth and I often look back on it and it seems like there was a lot of vanity in it (but no one realises that until maybe they’ve lived a bit longer). They say that youth is wasted on the young, and very often it is; but the trouble is, people keep seeking eternal youth as if that would be the solution, and I don’t think it is – I feel that you must move, you must keep flowing, you must grow old graciously and – actually, almost with excitement. Being older, I can let go of things that once were so important to me. It’s like: Do you ever look back on your childhood and think how obsessed you were with sweets and wish you were still that person? I don’t”.
Annie Lennox is the type of human who will not rest until there is equality and progress in the world. She is this amazing spirit and campaigner who is inspiring to watch and, as an artist, Lennox has been responsible for some truly staggering songs. Her voice is unlike anyone else’s and, whether with Eurythmics or working solo, Lennox has inspired and influenced so many other artists. One only needs to listen to a single Annie Lennox track and you realise how much music means to her and what her voice can do. I think Lennox is a treasure and let’s hope there are more albums from her in the future. If you have not listened to her solo work or are new to Eurythmics, make sure you right that and investigate immediately. There is nobody like the wonderful Annie Lennox and, for that reason, there was no doubt in my mind that she belonged in my…
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