Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Oscillating Between Boring And Unsettling, Annie Lennox’s Nostalgia Is An Underwhelming Cover Album!

The Good: Amazing vocals, Intriguing song selection for Annie Lennox
The Bad: Musically boring, Unimaginative covers, Short
The Basics: Annie Lennox gives a cover album of American jazz songs that fails to make any her own . . . except one which is just unsettling!

Back when Annie Lennox began her solo career, I felt a bit awkward; I have a great appreciation for artists over performers, but I found myself enjoying her album of cover songs, Medusa (reviewed here!) over the original works she created for Diva (reviewed here!). Now, more than twenty years after Lennox went solo, she has released Nostalgia, a new album of cover songs. Lennox made an interesting choice with the subject of her cover songs: American jazz standards, most of which were popularized by Ray Charles, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and similar performers. Unfortunately, the audaciousness of Lennox’s song selection ends the intrigue with Nostalgia.

The key to any album of cover songs is the way a performer or artist makes the songs their own. Artists tend to write their own music and lyrics, so when they choose to cover songs written by other people, they should do so with some sense of flair or originality. Marilyn Manson seemed to realize that when the group did a cover of The Eurythmics’s (Annie Lennox’s band in the early 1980s) “Sweet Dreams” as a creepy, nightmarish dirge as opposed to an up-tempo, synth-driven pop song. Unfortunately, on Nostalgia, Annie Lennox shows no such originality. Instead, Lennox goes for a “literal” interpretation of the songs she covers on Nostalgia. The disappointment that creates cannot be understated; Lennox has an uncommon creativity and a flair for the quirky and dramatic. On Nostalgia, she simply sings a bunch of songs like any number of torch singers without making any so distinct as to make the listener sit up and say “wow!”

With a dozen tracks clocking out at just over forty-three minutes, Nostalgia features songs that are very familiar to American audiences. Songs like “Georgia On My Mind,” “I Put A Spell On You,” and “The Nearness Of You” are played by Annie Lennox on Nostalgia, in her beautiful and distinctive voice. The album showcases none of Lennox’s creative talents as she sings the songs as so many artists have done before. In fact, if one were listening to Ray Charles singing “Georgia On My Mind” and said, “I wonder what it would sound like if Annie Lennox sang the song” and popped in Nostalgia, her version would be exactly what one expected.

Nostalgia is not bad, but it is almost entirely so obvious. Annie Lennox has an amazing voice and she showcases it on Nostalgia. But despite alternating between a soaring soprano and moments of gravelly beauty in her vocals, Lennox gives listeners nothing that she has not given them on her other albums.

The lone exception to the issue that plagues Nostalgia is Annie Lennox’s take on “You Belong To Me.” Every other version of “You Belong To Me” that I have heard has the singer alternating between melancholy and heartfelt, the result being a ballad that is usually heartwrenching and sad for the way the love expressed in the song is either being recalled or slipping out of the musical protagonists’s grasp. On Nostalgia, Lennox does a different take on the song; she takes the lines and presents them in possibly the most direct and literal way. There is something terrifying and possessive about the way Lennox sings “You Belong To Me” in a slightly more up-tempo way than anyone else has performed it (at least, that I’ve heard!).

Unfortunately, the very standard way that Lennox performs every other song on Nostalgia makes for an album that is more mundane than extraordinary. The songs have a minor feeling of intrigue given that they are largely American songs being presented by a British singer, but the intrigue wears off with each listen. Nostalgia is a very basic vocal album and what isn’t dull and standard is just creepy. The result is an album that might be the least impressive outing by an amazing artist.

The best track is “I Cover The Waterfront,” the low point is the unsettling performance of “You Belong To Me.”

For other new music, please check out my reviews of:
Little Secret - Nikki Yanofsky
Title (EP) – Meghan Trainor
Shine On - Sarah McLachlan


For other music reviews, please check out my Music Review Index Page for a complete, organized listing of all my music reviews!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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