Friday, December 28, 2012

Collection: One-Disc Version Of The Album Smart Enough Not To Call Itself "Best Of!"

The Good: Great vocals, Interesting instrumentals, Some amazing lyrics
The Bad: Not nearly all the "Best Of" Annie Lennox's works, Short (comparatively)
The Basics: Annie Lennox releases her contractually-mandated compilation album after much anticipation, which will satisfy casual listeners more than her fans.

[This was originally written when my wife and I first started dating. I enjoyed that, so I kept the original language! Enjoy!]

On my recent fantastic New York City trip, which was my gift to my fiance and which offered us a chance to find rings and propose to one another when we realized the love was working and we truly could live well in each other's company, I introduced my fiance to the wonders that are Barnes & Noble. It is actually pretty wonderful and incredible to take people who have never seen such selection of books, DVDs and c.d.s to a place like Barnes & Noble and set them loose. After a pretty healthy few days of buying gifts for my fiance, my fiance insisted that I needed to buy something for myself. It just so happened that we were in New York City at Barnes & Nobel when she made this insistence and that Annie Lennox had just come out with her Collection.

A contractually-obligated album that now makes Lennox a free-agent again, The Annie Lennox Collection is a compilation of singles from the four albums Lennox has released while at Sony as well as the song "Love Song For A Vampire," off the soundtrack to Bram Stoker's Dracula. There are two new cover songs and the listener who loves the works of Annie Lennox (as I do, but might not appear to from some of my reviews) gets the feeling Lennox provided the contractually-obligated minimum for this Collection, at least in the one-disc American version. I have, honestly, been waiting for a "best of" compilation from Lennox for years and now that it is here, I find myself disappointed by what is here and missing the great songs Lennox did that are missing from this version. There is a two-disc version in the UK and a Collector's version in the U.S. that comes with an additional DVD. But for the one-disc version, it is a study in what a great artist leaves out when putting together her best or most recognizable solo works.

With fourteen songs clocking in at only 62:03, The Annie Lennox Collection is an adequate collection of Lennox's solo works and radio-played cover songs. Considering that her albums Diva and Medusa bought her a solo career and that mainstream radio had largely abandoned Lennox and her works by the time Bare was released, one suspects that if Lennox were to release her most popular singles, it would only be a four song compilation ("Walking On Broken Glass," "Why," "No More 'I Love You's,'" and "Why"), so at least Lennox gave listeners more than just that on this Collection. Instead, there are twelve songs her album listeners will enjoy as well as two new covers that they will come to love.

Largely, The Annie Lennox Collection is the musical vision of singer-songwriter Annie Lennox. Ten of the songs are written by Lennox and the covers "No More 'I Love You's" and "A Whiter Shade Of Pale" came from her cover album "Medusa." The new songs "Pattern Of My Life" and "Shining Light" are both covers, but Lennox does a great job of interpreting them with her voice and sense of desire in her vocals. Lennox provides the lead vocals on all of the songs and plays keyboards on some of the songs. Lennox is only given a production credit on the two new covers, which suggests the reason she is happily fleeing Sony/Arista might well have to do with her inability to control the sound she is producing.

That said, Collection is worthwhile for those who have heard Lennox's radio hits, but not her full albums or recognized her works elsewhere. Because I am not likely to let this go until I can vent it, it is worth saying that Annie Lennox has a number of good or great works that do not appear on this compilation. Where is her Oscar winning song "Into The West?!" (the Brits get it on their two-disc version!). But even those lucky UK residents are left scratching themselves wondering how this album could leave off Lennox's cover of "Waiting In Vain" or her amazing cover of "Castles Burning," which was featured in a pivotal scene in American Beauty!

But the irksome aspect of Collection is that it does not include any of Lennox's best unsung (metaphorically, obviously) works. Where is "The Saddest Song I've Got" from Bare? How could Lennox leave off "Through The Glass Darkly" from Songs Of Mass Destruction? And yes, it jerked me around to see "Waiting In Vain" on the bonus DVD for the Collector's edition, but not on this one-disc album. How could Lennox do that?

Well, first she did not claim this was her "Best Of." Rather cleverly, Lennox released this as The Annie Lennox Collection and one hopes if she ever finds herself in such unpalatable circumstances as she felt she found herself in at Sony (who can blame her, I never heard a song from her last two albums on the radio, ever!) she ought to at least call it "The Annie Lennox Contractually-Obligated Collection Of Songs I Put Out While Here, But You Likely Never Heard After The First Few." Sure, it's wordy, but it's more accurate and it does not leave listeners with the thought that they might be able to open up some space on their shelves whatwith an album that trims the fat off the older albums and combines all the best into one perfect Annie Lennox listening experience.

Collection is not that album. Instead, it is a compilation of Lennox's keyboard and percussion-driven pop-rock songs like "Walking On Broken Glass," "Sing" and "Pavement Cracks." Her new covers sound similar to earlier works on the album, though "Shining Light" has the brash enthusiasm that instantly calls to mind Lennox's tenure in the Eurythmics. Ultimately, the collection is made up of songs that are - with a few exceptions - epic sounding pop-rock songs. "Walking On Broken Glass" has a memorable keyboard riff and "Dark Road" has a melody that is softer but unforgettable once one has heard it but once.

What binds the songs together is Lennox's amazing voice. She goes high into the soprano range with "Why" and "Pavement Cracks," but carry the lower notes on songs like "Dark Road" and "Sing." Her cover of "A Whiter Shade Of Pale" illustrates perfectly how she is able to go through her entire range while holding the notes longer than most other musical artists ever could.

As well, Lennox writes amazing and articulate poetics. Despite my arguing for the presence of certain cover songs on The Annie Lennox Collection, what one wants to celebrate of Lennox is her own writing. Lennox captures longing and heartbreak often enough, but arguably never as well as she does on "Cold." There, she sings out passionately "Dying is easy it's living that scares me to death / I could be so content hearing the sound of your breath / Cold is the color of crystal / The snowlight that falls from the heavenly skies / Catch me and let me dive under, / For I want to swim in the pools of your eyes" ("Cold"). Lennox is a true poet and her lines read as well - sometimes better - than her music makes them sound.

The unfortunate aspect of Lennox's work not getting airtime on radios is that her social activism on songs like "Sing" goes largely unnoticed by mainstream America. Moreover, there is something impressive about Lennox marshaling the talent of such diverse female vocalists as Bonnie Raitt, Gladys Knight, Madonna, and Fergie for a single song! But outside such booming anthems, it is Lennox's stark vocals and lyrics on songs like "A Thousand Beautiful Things" that consistently impresses the listener. After all, while Lennox brings together dozens of recognizable female voices for "Sing," she has a sense of social power that rivals the lyrics in "Sing" on "A Thousand Beautiful Things" when she wrote the lines "The world was meant for you and me / To figure out our destiny / To live to die to breathe to sleep / To try to make your life complete . . ." ("A Thousand Beautiful Things").

And outside the social conscious, Lennox is beautifully poetic on her other songs like "Pavement Cracks" and "Why," which are far more personal and may be easily related to by anyone who has ever gotten a broken heart. "Why" might well be one of the most beautiful songs in the English language in both its vocal presentation (Lennox is slow and sadly soprano throughout the whole song, with minimal instrumental accompaniment). Here she articulately asks "How many times do I have to try to tell you / That I'm sorry for the things I've done / But when I start to try to tell you / That's when you have to tell me / Hey...This kind of trouble's only just begun . . . That's why it hurts so bad to hear the words / That keep on falling from your mouth . . ." ("Why"). Lennox captures a truly universal emotion and sings it with heartwrenching precision to make a perfect song that shines even among her other widely acknowledged great works.

Ultimately, The Annie Lennox Collection becomes just enough to recommend not because one obsesses on what is missing, but rather what is present is truly so worthwhile and extraordinary in its own right. Anyone who loves strong female vocalists will enjoy The Annie Lennox Collection. Those of us who love the works of Annie Lennox, though, will find ourselves wishing there was more of her great works to love on this compilation.

The best track is "Why," the weak point is the less memorable "Precious."

For other works by Annie Lennox, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Little Bird (single)
Songs Of Mass Destruction


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

© 2012, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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