Elevate Difference

The Annie Lennox Collection

There are some striking facts that become evident when listening to this collection of the former Eurythmics frontwoman: first, how similar her music sounds to her work with Dave Stewart— lots of thick, fat synthesizers and glassy dance beats. Second, Lennox is an artist that personifies contradictions: she’s a white woman from Scotland with a soulful wail that would rival any gospel shouter; her songs are full of melancholy and longing, yet the production is often pristine and classy to the point of antiseptic. Also noticeable is just how consistent her sound is—her solo work has changed little during her considerable career—a testament to her ability to maintain a level of quality in her music (this record sounds like a full studio LP, as opposed to a collection).

The record starts off with a bang, with three of her best solo records from her strongest solo album, her debut Diva: the funky “Little Bird,” the paranoid “Walking on Broken Glass” and the gorgeous weeping ballad, “Why,” which is Lennox’s sole solo classic. The songs are Lennox at her best. “Little Bird” and “Walking on Broken Glass” are both great dance numbers and, despite the peppy arrangements, Lennox still sings lyrics of lost love. 

“No More 'I Love You’s'” was the best single from her sophomore release, Medusa. A collection of covers and remakes, the album wasn’t terribly well-received, although this song won her a Grammy and was a hit on MTV. It’s a pretty obscure 1980s synthpop tune that Lennox has resuscitated. The chorus is very catchy and Lennox is, of course, wonderful, soulful and predictably heartbreaking. 

“Precious” breaks up the excellence of the album, with clunky, dated R&B production (the mile-wide bass slaps are ridiculous). Lennox sounds as if she was convinced of the mediocrity of the song and phones in a decent, if unremarkable performance very unlike her usual professionalism. 

Aside from “No More 'I Love You’s',” Medusa gave Lennox another gem with a lovely cover of “Whiter Shade of Pale.” The cool production, with its pulsing beat (it sounds like a heartbeat), and creamy, blanket-like orchestration and tinkling harpsichord matches the committed and brilliant performance by the singer. 

“A Thousand Beautiful Things” was an excellent cut from her comeback record Bare. It’s classic Annie Lennox—by the song’s release in the mid 2000s, Lennox had defined a sound for herself— namely, stately, polished pop/R&B with wall-to-wall synthesizers and thumping drum machines, eccentric backup vocals and usually a melisma-filled bridge. “A Thousand Beautiful Things” satisfied all these qualities well. 

On “Sing,” Lennox addresses politics—specifically feminism, with a chorus of fellow female superstars including Madonna, Gladys Knight, Dido, Fergie, Mary J. Blige, Anastasia, among others. The single from her underrated 2008 Songs of Mass Destruction is an excellent female anthem. It takes a cue from USA for Africa’s “We Are the World” with an all-star cast; though, interestingly, it’s only Lennox and Madonna that are distinguished on the track. Wisely choosing to write a driving up-tempo number, Lennox crafts a thoughtful song that is at once intelligent and fun to listen to.

By the next song’s opening strains, listeners are lead to believe that they’re in store for another trademark Lennox ballad. Instead, after the plaintive opening of “Pavement Cracks,” (another choice track from Bare) a chugging bass enters with a clanging guitar, turning the yearning ballad into a sprightly dance cut. “Love Song for a Vampire,” Lennox’s theme to Bram Stroker’s Dracula, is another minor entry in the singer’s resume. A decent, if unspectacular song, with some interesting sounds and a typically good performance by Lennox. “Cold,” a word often used to describe Annie Lennox is another wonderful ballad, in a similar vein to “Why.” There are some great, backup vocals that allow for Lennox’s inner gospel diva to be released as she spars with her background singers. “Dark Road,” the initial single from Songs is also a pretty ballad, although it’s a bit redundant of her other slower works, and doesn’t live up to the standards of “Why” or “Cold,” but does boast a moving string section. 

The record closes with two new songs: “Pattern of My Life” and “Shining Light”—neither are particularly memorable, but they aren’t complete time-wasters either; they just pale in comparison to the classics. 

__The Annie Lennox Collection_ is a good overview of Lennox’s career; there are some omissions, such as her duets with Al Green, Aretha Franklin, and Sting; it would also have been nice to have some more obscure material like “Mama,” an esoteric entry for a charity record, or “Step by Step,” a dance-pop single she wrote for Whitney Houston. Still, it’s a good buy for first-timers; those interested in getting to know Lennox better would be better served buying her classic debut record.

Written by: Peter Piatkowski, May 5th 2009