Sunday, June 10, 2012

More Than Just "Sweet Dreams," Hard To Consider Greatest Hits From Eurythmics.

The Good: Moments of voice, SOUND, Moments of lyrics
The Bad: Repetitive, Completely produced, Repetitive, Vocally limited, Repetitive
The Basics: The Eurythmics present their five greatest hits alongside nine other tracks they are claiming made it big for the band in a decent album.

So, I went out and bought a new c.d. on a lark a few days ago. Seriously, the cover sold me on it. It is Annie Lennox's Songs Of Mass Destruction and I still have not listened to it. I have been so busy listening to albums for review that I haven't cracked into it yet. Actually, it's also a factor of when I picked up the album I decided that I wanted to build up to it and immerse myself in the music of Annie Lennox. So, I went back and picked up some albums by the Eurythmics.

Interestingly, I'm starting my study of Eurythmics with their Greatest Hits album. It's fine; it's funny, actually. I recall when the album was released back in 1991; a friend of mine bought the album and was going on about it. I just remember continually asking him, "What 'hits' did they have outside 'Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)'?!" Only "Here Comes The Rain Again," "Who's That Girl?" and "Missionary Man" rang a bell to me when he named them off. Four tracks, out of fourteen. Sadly, over a decade and a half later, when I popped this album in for the first time, those four tracks were the only ones that were familiar. I had seen the video for "Would I Lie To You?" while my local HD provider had a video channel, but otherwise, the Greatest Hits of Eurythmics seemed like something of an overstatement to me. Fortunately, every now and then I am somewhat wrong.

With fourteen tracks clocking in at 64:04, Greatest Hits is a true representation of the talent and vision of the Eurythmics, who are the duet of Annie Lennox and David Stewart. All of the songs are written by Lennox and Stewart and Stewart produced or co-produced every track on the album. Given that the writing and producing came from the band and Lennox provides primary vocals on each track, it seems reasonable to consider the album as the artistic vision of Eurythmics.

That means that they bear the responsibility for the repetitiveness and take the credit for the truly awesome synth-pop sound they innovated. The reason we ought to care about Eurythmics is that even today, the band sounds incredible, even if there are limits to the sound they create. Recognizable for their use of synthesizers to create hypnotic and heavy melodies like those that populate "Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)" and "Here Comes The Rain Again," Greatest Hits illustrates the band had more than just that, but that the cornerstone of the group's success is their innovation in sound. An argument could be made that Eurythmics use of synthesizers and mixing paved the way for other artists who innovated in electronica and techno music.

And for a band written off so frequently as being a simple pop duo, Lennox and Stewart have a wonderful sense of storytelling to write from. Many of the tracks are preoccupied with relationships with emphasis on their complexity, not writing off the mechanics of romance with songs like "Would I Lie To You?" As well, they make a strong feminist argument ("Sisters Are Doin' It For Themselves") and commentary on the use of religion in society ("Missionary Man") and even celebrity ("The King & Queen Of America"). The result is a greatest hits album that has an intriguing thematic blend of the deeply personal and the social and the group makes it work masterfully.

Lyrically, the duo has a lot going for them. Consider that Eurythmics presents such poetic visions as "The language of love slips from my lover's tongue / Cooler than ice cream and warmer than the sun / Dumb words get broken just like a China cup / The language of love leaves me broken and on the run . . ." ("Who's That Girl?") before breaking into a dance-beat, hypnotic track. The thing about Eurythmics is that most of their tracks seem to have a wonderful sense of poetry to them before they degenerate into a one or two line repetitive cycle.

There are few exceptions to this on Greatest Hits, which suggests that largely people enjoy the repetition of the lines. The most notable exception might well be "Thorn In My Side," which makes a decent, poetic, emotional exploration with lines like "Thorn in my side. / You know that's all you ever were. / A bundle of lies. / You know that's all that it was worth. / I should have known better / But I trusted you at first. / I should have known better / But I got what I deserved. . ."

But, largely, the tracks are repetitive lyrically with title lines like "Would I Lie To You?" and "Missionary Man" being repeated twenty or more times in the song. This makes the album suffer some upon multiple listens and as I am on my ninth spinning of this disc as I write this, that does not bode well. What does work is that even as an audiophile who was around through the 1980s when these songs were released, nine of the tracks are essentially new to me hits. I don't know when or where "The King & Queen Of America" or "Love Is A Stranger" were hits, but because they are included here, I suppose someone considers them great Eurythmics tracks. Perhaps this would have been better titled "The Singles," because I have no doubt there were many more Eurythmics tracks released as singles than are on this album.

Despite the lyrical repetition, primary vocalist Annie Lennox makes it work. For the most part. Lennox is very produced with her vocals on some of the trademark songs, like "Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)," "Here Comes The Rain Again," and "Missionary Man." But what easily spawned her solo career must have been the less-adulterated, eerie soprano stylings she presents on tracks like "Who's That Girl?" On that track, she is haunting, high and slow in a way that sends chills up the spine of the listener.

It is also worth noting that on "Sisters Are Doin' It For Themselves" - a track about how far women have come socially and politically - Lennox is accompanied (and often overwhelmed) by other female vocalists, none of whom are credited in the liner notes to this album. In fact, it is quite possible that the only example of David Stewart's vocals comes with the accompanying "Just one thing" line on "Who's That Girl?" Lennox dominates this album.

And she should; she has a voice that is usually smoky and forceful but has the ability to be soft and seductive and melodically wrenching. Lennox has an obvious platform to start her solo career (which she did) based on some of the earliest material on this album. Most notable for her vocal range out of the tracks I had never heard is "There Must Be An Angel (Playing With My Heart)" where she articulately recites the musics poetry before going into a full range melodic chorus that takes her into her highest ranges and she sounds . . . well, angelic.

Musically, Greatest Hits does reveal a somewhat limited sensibility. While the group clearly has more songs than just "Sweet Dreams" and songs from that album, throughout the album there is little sense of musical growth. The band creates memorable pop-rock riffs, usually using pounding drums, synthesizers and electric guitar. Most of the songs have a beat that can easily be danced to and would inspire a listener to move to it.

This is not to say it is bad, but the sound does get monotonous when one has Greatest Hits on replay for a day and a half.

Who might like this album? Actually, it is accessible to anyone who likes pop-rock and if one likes the sound and flavor of Eurythmics most successful hit, "Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)," will find this music enjoyable. Anyone who has a low tolerance for repetition is unlikely to enjoy it.

Listening to the album on repeat, I'm finding "Don't Ask Me Why" resonates most with me now with its haunting lyrics about love lost, making it the best track. "I Need A Man" is the weak link on this album.

For other Annie Lennox or techno albums, be sure to visit my reviews of:
Little Bird (single) – Annie Lennox
Fire - Electric Six
Nightlife - Pet Shop Boys


For other music reviews, be sure to check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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