September 21, 2007

Review: Annie Lennox's Mass Destruction

On October 2, Annie Lennox releases her 4th solo record, the whimsically titled Songs Of Mass Destruction. It's actually only her third album of original solo material in 15 years, but it's her best since 1992's Diva.

In order to get this posted, I've decided to do a track-by-track commentary. I've heard the album several times, but not been able to actually play it on my ipod yet and, as any Annie fan knows, her music often sounds even better when it's right up in your ear...

Dark Road is the somber album-opener that you already know (video). As I've said before, this song - in the Why tradition - has a Mercedes of a melody. Really beautiful. My only complaint is that I find the heyyeyeyeyey middle eight a bit jarring. The b-side of the single, out Monday the 24th, is an acoustic version, so I'll be eager to hear how that version handles the middle eight.

Love Is Blind is a keyboard-driven stomper that quickly changes the mood. Her voice is pleasingly deep here and she takes it to the speakeasy with her intro: "Oh sugar, when you gonna come." Hooky, hooky, hooky, the song is a progression, 22 years on, from the new-soul of Be Yourself Tonight. The wordy, fast middle eight is fantastic, but it's the "Oh lover, make me yours again" sentiments that make this song so bumpin'!

Smithereens opens with a pretty piano. The verses are really lush and the chorus picks up the tempo. I can't compare it to any earlier songs, but for me it's like Elton John from the 70s; this will end up being a major track for Annie. It's shimmering and emotional. At 5:17, it's also the longest song on SOMD.

Ghosts In My Machine (as in "haunted by the ..") is notable for a sort of chanted "I [x] too much" vocal hook which changes with each line (seen, feel, drank, etc). Another rock/soul song, harkening back to Sisters Are Doin' It For Themselves era ,she may have to break out that tight black cocktail dress and heels for the video. Following on a theme here, the song has a great middle eight that's slightly more lush than the rest of the tune.

Womankind, a classic Annie song title, is notable for some little whirlygig vocal noises I cannot make myself. This one starts like another soul anthem, but the chorus provides a twist and there is a subtle carousel effect on the backing synths. The song's theme seems to be "I need to change this circumstance" and the middle eight is a rap, but it's unclear to me who it is. It could be Annie slowed down a bit? Listen close, too, at the outro for a Wonder-esque harmonica. Womankind reminds me a bit of the kind of music Neneh Cherry used to make: feminist, worldwise and urban.

Through The Glass Darkly slows things down after the rousers. It has a sort of bobbing tempo with some interesting floaty synth effects. It's not one that leaps out initially, but the singing is very strong and I love the line "Blue songs on my radio..."
At 3:30, Glass is the shortest track on SOMD.

Lost is an airy piano ballad. For some reason, it reminds me of a merging of the sound of Bare and Into The West. The chorus has a very strange layering of vocals that's almost dissonant and there are effects that make her voice sound like an instrument. The song never develops and eventually sort of dissipates amid Annie's humming.

Coloured Bedspread is MAJOR. It opens with an electropop synth and a wailing ooooh from Annie. A surefire single, this is a real diversion from the rest of the record's rock/soul. It's like an elegant nightime dance track – it'll sound great in a fast car. Reminiscent of a jumped-up Love Is A Stranger, the chorus is very 80's. In fact, I don't think Annie has ever done a song so similar to Touch-era Eurythmics. It's also one of her sexiest lyrics: the title refers to "things we do on my coloured bedspread" You'll soon know what I mean when I say it's like sugar melting in my mouth.

Sing is still a mystery. It really does open with a women calling for international aid and then Annie comes in with the hook that carries the song. It's got a nice rolling piano and sort of chant-like quality. There is apparently an 8-minute version with more individual performances from the 23 female guests, but the only other truly prominent vocal on the CD version comes from Madonna. And a strange appearance it is: The Lady Ritchie sounds quite subdued next to Annie, like she isn't even going to attempt to match her. There's something about that is
almost like 80s Madonna. Regardless, the song is anthemic and the dance beat pushes up in the final minute of the song – there could be a major remix for this one. The final moments seem to have an African folk song grafted onto the end.

Big Sky, also the name of a Kate Bush song, is built on a tinkly piano and twilight synths, but it slowly grows into something appropriately massive for its title. One of my favorites, it's a slow burner; when you first hear it, you won't know where its going. I'm not sure it ever quite gets there, but vocally it's very bravura, with Annie's voice in falsetto. This acts as a strong lead up to the final track on the CD…

Fingernail Moon is a piano w/orchestra ballad built on a gorgeous melody. It's highly cinematic, like the theme to a movie that doesn't exist yet. The lyric is gorgeous – something about it reminds me of Rufus Wainwright's writing: "There's no need to be shy, there's no need to be scared." A classic album closer.

Songs of Mass Destruction is the most feminist piece of work Annie has ever done (and she's been a sexy suffragette for years now). Of any Annie Lennox album, this is also the one that sounds the most like Eurythmics. If it has a flaw, it's only that I could use one more spare ballad or electro number. The album is hopelessly catchy – the kind of CD you'll play straight through with no problem. The big tracks added to her "canon" are Dark Road, Coloured Bedspread, Love Is Blind, Smithereens and Fingernail Moon. Annie's also given us the first great autumn record; hearing it is like drinking a like a cup of something warm.


The Richard said...

Is there any other legendary artist coming out with a statement of major artistic intent this Autumn? I can't think of one. Based on your review, this record is the gold standard. I cannot *wait*. Literally salivating for 'Coloured Bedspread'.

Of what I have heard, just that quaky Madonna vocal troubles me. I don't think it would have been a bad idea to pop on a rather longer version with less Madge and more combined harmonies. But I suspect The Queen wasn't having any of that.

Michael AKA Cayman said...

It sounds great. I'm really looking forward to hearing it.

D'luv said...

Sweet rack.

xolondon said...

Would you like to tap her, D'luv?