Amid the marquee-name covers on Medusa – Bob Marley, Al Green, Procul Harum – lurks this gorgeous take on the Blue Nile’s masterpiece of careworn romance. You could argue the source material is so good you can’t go wrong, but Lennox really inhabits the lyric: its emotional climax – “I’m tired of crying on the stairs!” – is suitably gut-punching.
Should anyone doubt that Lennox marches entirely to the beat of her own drum these days, her most recent set of original material consisted entirely of sparse piano instrumentals that had more in common with Brian Eno’s ambient albums than her trademark oeuvre. Filled with silences, capable of instilling a chilly calm as it plays, Paranassius Apollo is a diversion, but a charming one.
Eurythmics’ 1999 reunion album Peace was a disappointment – big on rock guitar bluster, low on great songs – but the new track they appended to a 2005 greatest hits collection was something else: a richly soulful Lennox vocal over grinding synths that suggested familiarity with the oeuvre of Goldfrapp.
Inevitably left in the shade cast by Be Yourself Tonight’s plethora of hit singles, Adrian is the album’s minor triumph: 12-string guitars chiming and sparkling over a synthesised bass line, Lennox’s tender vocal shadowed by the distinctively lemony tones of guest Elvis Costello.
More guitarist and chief songwriter Peet Coombes’ baby than vocalist Lennox’s, the Tourists couldn’t seem to work out which post-punk trend to follow: 60s revivalist powerpop? Synthesisers? The former won out on their biggest original hit: compact and buoyant, So Good to Be Back Home is a minor delight.
Eurythmics’ debut album In the Garden was the sound of a duo working out who they were, but there are gems among the musical dead ends: the fantastic All the Young (People of Today) dealt in eerily blank-eyed vocals and atmospheric electronic pop, a sound they would pursue on their next two albums.
A dramatic departure from the synthpop that had shot Eurythmics to fame, and thus a taste of things to come, Right by Your Side dabbled in a kind of mock-calypso-meets-African pop style: an idea that looks terrible on paper, but – driven by an infectiously exuberant Lennox vocal – turns out to be four minutes of joy-inducing euphoria.
A fabulously unsettling blast of weirdness concluded 1983’s Touch: a relentless mid-tempo synth chatter – punctuated by bursts of fidgety bass and jittery horns that suggest they had been listening to Talking Heads’ Remain in Light – with a warped, voices-in-my-head take on call-and-response vocals as Lennox’s multitracked voice effectively answers itself.
Ghosts in My Machine opens with a piano riff that recalls the Velvelettes’ He Was Really Saying Somethin’, but the song that follows couldn’t be further from the breezy elation of that Motown classic. It’s weary and despondent, its mood amplified by Lennox’s voice: on top of everything else, she can convincingly wail the blues.
A cheering sign that the late-80s Eurythmics still had a penchant for throwing listeners a curveball, Heaven’s electronic dancefloor focus suggests their interest was piqued by the first stirrings of house music: it says something that, even with her vocal reduced to a handful of lyrics, Lennox still bosses the track.
Eurythmics’ career mirrored the arc of British pop in the 80s: androgyny and electronics ceding to traditionalism, rock guitars and classic soul influences mid-decade. Something was lost in transition, but it wasn’t songwriting skill: It’s Alright … is the kind of thing their sometime collaborator Aretha Franklin would have been happy to record in the late 60s.
Lennox’s third solo album Bare was intense and emotionally hard work: an unflinching dispatch from the throes of a divorce. The Saddest Song I’ve Got finds her on the brink of saying goodbye for ever, looking for reassurance that she’s doing the right thing. Set to a bed of becalmed electronics, it lives up to its title.
Eurythmics’ soundtrack to Michael Radford’s film adaptation of 1984 was the last real sighting of the duo in exploratory, atmospheric mode. On Julia, they stripped back their sound, leaving Lennox’s vocal supported by faint shadings of synth and piano and her own voice fed through a vocoder. It’s icily beautiful.
For an artist who’s clearly now in the business of making albums on her own terms, Lennox still has a keen commercial sense: Dark Road is an epic, arena-scale ballad – chiming guitars, emotive vocal – that daringly declines to let the drums crash in and the chorus surge until two and a half minutes in. When they do, it’s authentically spectacular.
With the late Michael Kamen’s lavish string arrangement – complete with pizzicato section that, consciously or otherwise, echoes Buddy Holly’s Raining in My Heart – Here Comes the Rain Again feels like an early sign that the band’s ambitions extended far beyond synth-pop. Its power lurks in its emotional sweep: downcast verses sliding into hopeful choruses.
The Revenge album featured the best of Eurythmics’ mid-80s diversions into straight-arrow, leather-trousered, stadium-sized pop-rock. It’s a long way from the music they were making three years earlier, but When Tomorrow Comes is a beguiling, potent song and Lennox sounds fantastic: powerful but serene amid the distorted guitars and sax.
Even a band with a string of imperishable hits has one song that towers over the others in the collective imagination and, decades later, There Must Be an Angel remains the Eurythmics track radio stations reach for first: look beyond its over familiarity and Lennox’s swooping, leaping performance is quite astonishing.
From the late 80s, Lennox unwittingly became a running gag for Brit awards detractors: inevitably up for best British female regardless of what was happening in pop. But that cosy industry approval obscures what a genuinely incredible singer she is: on Why, you hear a voice that’s powerful but poised, emotional but restrained.
The Lover Speaks’ original No More “I Love You’s” is mannered, windswept 1986 pop with lyrics inspired by Roland Barthes and a guitar riff that recalls Tears for Fears’ Everybody Wants to Rule The World. Lennox’s version is less studied and more poignant, with a vocal that goes from airy to heartbreaking.
Boosted, and possibly overshadowed, by a video that featured a celebrated example of what was once called gender-bending – it concluded with Lennox copping off with herself in male drag – Who’s That Girl remains a fantastic song when stripped of its arresting visuals: understated but affecting, melancholy verses giving way to a darkly suspicious chorus.
The standout track from Bare starts out very Blue Nile-esque – washes of synth, downcast lyrics set on rain-washed city streets – but gradually gathers pace until it reaches a point not unlike one of Eurythmics’ soul-inspired stomps: moreover, it’s a beautifully written song – surely just one high-profile cover version away from ubiquity.
The greatest example of Eurythmics’ early experimental tendencies is this fabulous evocation of an urban landscape on a sleepless, humid summer night. It rests layers of Lennox’s vocals – some hypnotically repetitive, some extemporised – over lethargic bass and howls of guitar feedback, the mood shifting from drowsily sexy to brooding and ominous.
Although a relative commercial disappointment, 1987’s Savage has a strong claim to be called Eurythmics’ best album, offering an edgier, more electronic approach to widescreen pop than its two predecessors. Its big ballad is subtler and less spectacular than their blockbusting mid-80s hits; it’s also more charming and affecting.
Lennox’s post-Eurythmics solo career has been fitful, but there was nothing tentative about its opening: the confidence that oozed through the Diva album is summed up by Little Bird’s swagger and strut. And if you’ve always had an insatiable urge to hear Lennox singing a hardcore rave track, N-Joi’s remix is … diverting.
Thirty-five years on, in the time of Instagram, the lyrics of Shame seem astonishingly prescient: “There’s a lifestyle, everybody wants it, but it don’t exist.” The song itself is exquisite – amazing chorus, a vocal that floats above machine funk backing, a faint hint of Bowie about the middle eight.
Another example of Diva’s confidence in full effect: a perfectly realised slice of pop-soul. Its tune is so effervescent, Lennox’s vocal so commanding, that you barely realise how miserable it is: “I’m living in an empty room with all the windows smashed / I’ve got so little left to lose.”
From its mock-girl group spoken-word intro onwards, Thorn in My Side is spectacular: an outpouring of relationship-related bile set to a key-change-heavy melody that stacks one ear worm on top of another. The none-more-1986 production, complete with duck-and-cover snare drum, hasn’t dated terribly well, but it doesn’t matter: this is an amazing song.
A song without a chorus, its lyrics about commercial failure, Sweet Dreams has rung down the ages: covered by Lorde, Marilyn Manson and Weezer, its stentorian riff sampled by Nas, Britney Spears, Aviici and MIA among others. No subsequent version has bettered the original, which transformed hopelessness into an entirely iconic 80s pop moment.
A song written for Francis Ford Coppola’s movie Bram Stoker’s Dracula turned out to be Annie Lennox’s finest solo single: a high-drama, suitably gothic confection of ambient synths and booming drums supporting a gorgeous, faintly folk-y melody and lyrics that function as a straightforward love song when taken out of its cinematic context.
Sweet Dreams ultimately proved more pervasive, but Love Is a Stranger remains Eurythmics’ greatest moment. In under four minutes, its synth pulses and shimmers manage to be sensual, creepy, icy and aching, something largely down to Lennox’s shapeshifting vocal, which announced her post-Tourists rebirth every bit as dramatically as the moment in the accompanying video where she rips off a blond wig to reveal her shorn, bright orange hair. Weirdly, for a song at pop’s cutting edge 40 anni fa, it hasn’t dated at all: there are hip electronic pop artists in 2022 who would give anything to make a single as tough and cool.