Discog Fever - Rating and Reviewing Every Eurythmics and Annie Lennox Album (Part 1)

by Jeff Fiedler

Discog Fever is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com, rating and reviewing a band's entire catalogue of studio albums.

In the Garden (1981, RCA U.K.; not released in the U.S. until 1984)

C –

The debut album (helmed by former Kraftwerk and Ultravox producer Conny Plank) from the duo of Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart (both formerly of The Tourists, who scored a minor Hot 100 hit in the U.S. with their cover of Dusty Springfield’s “I Only Want to Be with You”) is somewhat avant-garde (psychedelic, even) and not nearly as radio-friendly as the albums that would follow it, so this is an awfully strange listen and not at all representative of the brand of pop that would come to define the band [don’t expect to find anything here akin to “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)”], and it’s especially bewildering how much Lennox’s vocal abilities are downplayed here. (She practically whispers her way through these songs, which makes her conversion into a powerful soul belter on later albums like Be Yourself Tonight all the more remarkable.)  Still, while you’re not likely to recognize any of the tunes here, the album isn’t without its moments, and “English Summer,” “She’s Invisible Now,” and, best of all, “Belinda” are all worthwhile listens. 

Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) (1982, RCA)

B +  

The duo’s commercial breakthrough (and their first album to be issued Stateside), the title track of this album would go on to top the American singles charts and become one of the most enduring synth-pop songs of the ‘80s, still popping up on a regular basis on radio decades later. Nothing else on this album is quite as wildly catchy as that song and this album is not nearly as warm as most of the studio albums that would follow it, either, but this is a stronger and more commercial set of songs than those on In the Garden, and other winners include the haunting Top 40 hit “Love Is a Stranger,” “The Walk,” “This Is the House,” and a surprisingly good cover of Sam and Dave’s “Wrap It Up” (done as a duet with Scritti Politti’s Green Gartside) where Lennox channels her inner soul crooner to fun results. 

Touch (1983, RCA)

A

Dave and Annie bring an even stronger set of material to the table on this follow-up to their commercial breakthrough, and the disc is built around an exceptionally strong trilogy of singles: the haunting synth-pop of “Who’s That Girl,” the deliriously catchy island-flavored pop of “Right by Your Side” (easily one of the duo’s most underrated singles and one you sadly never hear on radio these days), and, best of all, the devastatingly beautiful symphonic pop of “Here Comes the Rain Again,” arguably the greatest single the duo ever made. It’s true that nothing else on the album quite equals the majesty of those three singles, but the surrounding cuts here are noticeably stronger than the non-singles from Sweet Dreams, especially “The First Cut,” “Cool Blue,” and the hypnotic “Paint a Rumour.”

1984 (1984, RCA)

D +

The most notorious of the duo’s albums, 1984 served as the soundtrack for the John Hurt/Richard Burton movie of the same name, based on the George Orwell book. Unfortunately, the music was forced into the movie against director Michael Radford’s will, leading him to publicly criticize the final product, and a second version of the film was released featuring the score Radford had originally intended on using. Nor were Eurythmics fans any more placated than Radford, since this soundtrack is a largely instrumental affair and noticeably more chilly and oppressive a listen than your standard Eurythmics disc. Naturally, the album – and its equally controversial single, “Sexcrime (Nineteen Eighty-Four)” – bombed, and it remains a footnote in the duo’s discography – an interesting listen, yes, but certainly not representative of their usual work and not nearly as necessary a purchase as any of their more traditional studio albums. Pick this up only if you’ve bought their other discs and need to complete your collection.

Be Yourself Tonight (1985, RCA)

A

Arguably the duo’s most consistent album, Be Yourself Tonight is an ever-so-slightly schizophrenic album that perversely incorporates everything from synth-pop to arena-rock, but it’s all handled so well and the songwriting is so strong that it holds up as an album piece better than you might expect. “There Must Be an Angel (Playing with My Heart),” with its twinkling synths, retains the Eurythmics sound of old, while also cleverly adding a predictably beautiful harmonica solo from Stevie Wonder into the mix, but the duo also branches out into bombastic guitar-driven pop with the muscular and brass-laden “Would I Lie to You,” a clever fusion of arena-rock and soulful gospel, and brings in the Queen of Soul herself, Aretha Franklin, for the woman-power-themed dance-pop of “Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves.” Lennox even turns in an Aretha-worthy performance of her own in the soulful pop of “It’s Alright (Baby’s Coming Back),” which would have fit in just as nicely on Franklin’s Who’s Zoomin’ Who. It’s not just the singles that are great, though, and album cuts like the gospel-laced “I Love You like a Ball and Chain” and the Elvis Costello duet “Adrian” are nearly just as fun.

Revenge (1986, RCA)

B –

Delving even deeper into the arena-rock experiments of the previous album, Revenge is certainly a far cry from Sweet Dreams, but the songwriting is still quite good, and there are some shining gems here in the likes of the hard-rocking Top 40 hit “Missionary Man,” the fun, saxophone-and-harmonica-adorned throwaway “Let’s Go!,” the catchy “A Little of You,”  “When Tomorrow Comes,”  and, even better, the uncharacteristic almost-British-Invasion-like jangle-pop of “Thorn in My Side,” arguably the most underrated single the duo ever made. The singles weren’t exactly well-chosen – “The Miracle of Love,” which ill-advisedly finds Dave sharing lead vocals with Annie on the chorus, isn’t nearly as catchy, for one, as “A Little of You” or “Let’s Go!” – so some of the album cuts tend to outshine some of the better-known songs here, but this is a strong outing and the last genuinely good album the duo would cut for RCA. 

Savage (1987, RCA)

C –

A very misguided affair, Savage would bring a screeching halt to the group’s commercial fortunes, peaking at #41 and failing to produce a single Top 40 hit in the U.S.. The fundamental flaw with the disc is that Dave and Annie no longer seem terribly interested in catering to the expectations of their fans and have consequently reverted to the more experimental nature of In the Garden, and even the lead-off single “Beethoven (I Love to Listen To)” is less of a song than a strange spoken-word piece with a weak chorus slapped on to it. “I Need a Man” is a little more obviously commercial and reminiscent of the arena-rock of “Missionary Man,” but it’s not nearly as well-crafted or catchy as that song. The album’s biggest saving grace is the shimmering pop of “You Have Placed a Chill in My Heart,” which would have been the much safer and stronger choice for lead-off single and is reminiscent of the sort of synth-pop that Erasure would shoot to fame with later in the decade.