Discog Fever - Rating and Reviewing Every Eurythmics and Annie Lennox Album (Part 2)

by Jeff Fiedler

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

We Too Are One (1989, Arista)

C +

The duo’s final album of the Eighties (and, as it would turn out, the last album they would make together until the end of the Nineties), this also marks the duo’s debut on Arista Records. Commercially, it fared only modestly better than Savage did, but artistically, this is actually the duo’s finest disc since at least Revenge. The gospel-infused “Revival” (co-written with the Gap Band’s Charlie Wilson) packs as much energy as anything the duo has cut to date, while the lovely ballad “Don’t Ask Me Why” – a preview of the more subdued, introspective pop Lennox would later explore on her solo albums – deservedly put the duo back in the Top 40 (though, sadly, for the last time, as it would turn out.) “(My My) Baby’s Gonna Cry,” the fine ballad “Angel” and the more up-tempo, brass-adorned rocker “The King & Queen of America” are strong cuts as well. The hooks are never as strong as those on Touch or Be Yourself Tonight or even Revenge, but this is nonetheless a fine way to bounce back after the uneven Savage and a much stronger note for the duo to have exited on before embarking on solo careers.

Diva (1992, Arista)

A

Lennox’s first solo album is distinctly different from her work with Dave Stewart, shunning the synth-pop and arena-rock of the Eurythmics albums in favor of a mix of atmospheric ballads and sunny, soulful pop tunes. But the change in musical approach also helps to call more attention to Lennox’s ever-powerful and always-underrated vocal chops, and she sounds better than ever here. Cuts like the pulsating pop of “Little Bird” (the song here most reminiscent of Eurythmics and the fun video of which features Annie cavorting with an assortment of Lennox impersonators), the ballad “Cold,” and the gospel-tinged “Legend in My Living Room” are very good indeed, but the two best cuts are easily the album’s two Top 40 hits, the gentle, yearning ballad “Why” and the effervescent up-tempo pop of the piano-and-strings-powered “Walking on Broken Glass.” The album’s only real misstep is the bonus track added to the CD, a remake of the standard “Keep Young and Beautiful” (from the 1933 film Roman Scandals), which just doesn’t fit in with the rest of the disc at all.  

Medusa (1995, Arista)

B –

It’s unclear whether this disc was provoked by a lack of new original material – Lennox hasn’t exactly been prolific as a songwriter since splitting with Stewart – or a genuine desire to pay homage to her influences, but Lennox’s second solo outing is a full-blown covers affair. While it seems a little too early in her solo career to be making such a disc, there are some very inspired moments here. It’s ballad-heavy, but that’s for the best, since the faster material tends to be a lot spottier; her take on Al Green’s “Take Me to the River” and the Blue Nile’s “Downtown Lights” fare the best of the up-tempo numbers, but she doesn’t fare nearly so well on the Temptations’ “I Can’t Get Next to You,” and the reworking of the Clash’s “Train in Vain (Stand By Me)” was simply a terrible idea from the very get-go and should have been jettisoned from consideration for inclusion. The ballads, however, are quite good. Her take on Bob Marley’s “Waiting in Vain” isn’t quite as soulful as his own version, but it’s lovely, while her shimmering rendition of Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale” (which was used to nice effect in the Sandra Bullock thriller The Net) is even better. Best of all is Lennox’s dramatic take on the obscure song “No More ‘I Love You’s” by the obscure British new-wave duo The Lover Speaks, who had opened for Eurythmics on the Revenge tour.

Peace (1999, Arista)

C – 

A fairly strange reunion disc, Peace finds Dave and Annie on disc together again for the first time in ten years. This understandably might sound at first like a really exciting prospect, but unfortunately, the reunion ultimately ends up being thoroughly disappointing, if only because this album sounds absolutely nothing like the Eurythmics of old. It’s as if Dave and Annie have completely forgotten what they used to sound like, and never is that feeling more palpable than on cuts like “I Want It All.” Nor are the songs terribly catchy, either – certainly not compared to the band’s mid-‘80s run of hits like “Here Comes the Rain Again” or “Would I Lie to You,” anyway – so it ends up sounding like a somewhat somber reunion, never as fun or as poppy as you would expect a Eurythmics reunion to be. There are some slightly decent songs to be found here, namely “17 Again,” “I’ve Tried Everything,” and “I Saved the World Today,” but nothing here is exactly on par with the duo’s best material of yore, and the album ultimately can be skipped over without missing anything particularly essential or fun.

Bare (2003, j)

C

The least satisfying of Lennox’s solo albums of original material to date, Bare suffers from both a lack of up-tempo material and – much more problematically – a dire lack of hooks. There are some reasonably decent tunes here, namely the hypnotic, acoustic-guitar-laden “A Thousand Beautiful Things” and the epic “Pavement Cracks,” which changes moods throughout, beginning on a very gentle note but eventually building into a pounding number reminiscent of Diva’s “Little Bird.” But, unlike Diva, while this disc makes an adequate album piece, you’re not very likely to remember the melodies to these songs all that well afterwards, and there are no obvious hits like “Walking on Broken Glass” to be found here.

Songs of Mass Destruction (2008, Arista)

A

An astounding return to form, this is at least as first-rate of an album as Diva, if not perhaps even better. Lennox brings a much stronger set of songs to the table here than she did on Bare: the tempos are much more varied, the hooks are more plentiful, and the ballads are even more emotive and passionate than usual. Basically, Lennox has come up with the perfect batch of material to highlight all of her greatest talents as a vocalist, be it the foot-stomping soul of “Love Is Blind,” the catchy gospel-laced rock of “Ghost in My Machine” (which musically sounds like a hybrid of “Missionary Man” and “Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves”), or the jaw-droppingly beautiful ballads “Dark Road,” “Through the Glass Darkly” and the stark, album-closing “Fingernail Moon,” the latter as intimate a ballad as we’ve ever heard from Annie. (Annie should record in this “unplugged” of a setting more often!) The album sadly attracted little attention from the music press, but this album is as masterful as anything Lennox has ever made, with or without Dave Stewart, and it’s rather astounding that even the Grammys – who had nominated the far-inferior Bare for Best Pop Album a few years earlier – overlooked this album entirely. Go figure. Fans of Annie’s definitely should not miss this album.

Nostalgia (2014, Blue Note)

B

While Lennox has never been a terribly prolific songwriter in her post-Eurythmics years, it’s still rather surprising that her fifth solo album – and her first in six years – is yet another full-blown covers disc, this time delving into the world of early pop standards. Considering the strength of the original material that made up Songs of Mass Destruction, it’s hard not to wish that Lennox’s own songwriting was showcased here, but for a standards album, this certainly is not bad at all. It’s questionable whether or not including the Billie Holliday classic “God Bless the Child” was a good idea (not that Lennox butchers it, but there are some songs that are simply too identified with a particular singer to really be worth recommending as cover material, and this is one such song), and while Lennox refreshingly brings some new life to the likes of “Summertime,” “Georgia on My Mind,” and “The Nearness of You” and does a stellar job with each, it’s debatable whether we really need another version by anybody of those well-worn tunes. The Screamin’ Jay Hawkins tune “I Put a Spell on You” doesn’t completely fit in here (this is a standards disc, after all), but Lennox’ soulful vocal chops are a fine fit for the tune and her performance of the blues classic is excellent indeed and would be brought to prominence in the movie Fifty Shades of Grey. The album is most intriguing when Lennox tries her hand at some lesser-known standards, such as “September in the Rain,” the Hoagy Carmichael-penned “Memphis in June,” and, best of all, “I Cover the Waterfront.” There’s nothing here that’s as much of a knockout as “No More ‘I Love You’s” from Medusa, but taken as a whole, this is actually a much more consistent listen from start to finish than her prior covers album (even if it’s not nearly as appealing as a disc of originals like Diva or Mass Destruction) and is a revealing look at the depths of Annie’s powers as a vocalist.  

Compilations:

The best-available Eurythmics compilation is RCA’s 2005 package Ultimate Collection; it sadly doesn’t include anything from the Arista album We Too Are One, which means that “Don’t Ask Me Why” is absent, but that’s the only Top 40 hit missing here, and the compilers do a fine job of rounding up all the most essential RCA sides from the duo. (The disc also includes two new recordings from Dave and Annie, “I’ve Got a Life” and “Was It Just Another Love Affair?”) Lennox also has a solo best-of available in the 2009 anthology The Annie Lennox Collection; it sadly misses the mark in its selection of cuts from Songs of Mass Destruction, picking “Sing” and “Dark Road” to represent the disc when “Ghost in My Machine,” “Love Is Blind,” “Through the Glass Darkly” and “Fingernail Moon” would all have been preferable substitutes, but it’s otherwise well-compiled, capturing all the highlights of Diva, Medusa, and Bare and also including two new cuts, a fine cover of Keane’s “Closer Now” (here retitled “Pattern of My Life”) and an especially impressive cover of Ash’s “Shining Light.”