Annie Lennox - Diva Music Album Reviews

Annie Lennox - Diva Music Album Reviews
Each Sunday, Pitchfork takes an in-depth look at a significant album from the past, and any record not in our archives is eligible. Today we revisit Annie Lennox’s 1992 solo debut, a joyous and liberated pop album with a prophetic message about the disillusionment of fame.

From the very beginning of her rise to international stardom, Annie Lennox desperately wanted to transcend her own fame. Her breakout single as one half of Eurythmics, 1983’s “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” encapsulated her anxieties as a frontwoman in the increasingly panoptic public eye: “Everybody’s looking for something,” she warned. Her androgynous fashion in the song’s music video—the buzzed, radioactive orange hair, the tailored men’s suit—was a form of defensive armor against a tabloid culture fixated on, as she phrased it to Rolling Stone at the time, the “bum-and-tits thing.” Even then, barely a year into her global ascent, she doubted her ability to define her own image: “Of course, you’ll never find a way around it.”

But before Lennox dreamed of escaping fame, fame provided an escape. Eurythmics co-lead Dave Stewart’s privileged upbringing (he once lamented to Rolling Stone that working-class kids in his hometown of Sunderland, England brushed him off as a “richie”) and the band’s promotional cycles—which grew progressively more outlandish, leading up to a £50,000 launch party in Antibes for 1989’s We Too Are One—often obscured Lennox’s own childhood poverty. Born on Christmas Day to a shipyard workman and a housewife, she was raised in the tenements of Aberdeen, Scotland, where she and her parents shared a cramped two-room unit. Longing to experience the bustling cultural hub of London, she enrolled in the Royal College of Music as a flutist. To supplement the small grant she received from the conservatory, she worked as a waitress at a vegetarian restaurant, where eventually she was introduced to Stewart. The two dated and formed the short-lived mod band the Tourists. By 1981, they’d romantically separated and reinvented themselves as the experimental arthouse duo Eurythmics.

Like an international spy, Lennox used clothing and makeup as tools of professional disguise, continuously shapeshifting: 1985’s Be Yourself Tonight introduced the ethereal femininity of “There Must Be an Angel (Playing With My Heart)” and the vamping Motown singer in “Would I Lie to You?,” while 1987’s Savage added a deranged vixen to her repertoire. Unlike David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust or Elton John’s Rocket Man, Lennox’s stage personas were firmly grounded in postmodern interpretations of life on Earth, from the grandiose excess of the French royal court to the listless drudgery of the Friedanian housewife in “Beethoven (I Love to Listen To).” While many of Lennox’s characters served as commentary on societal perceptions of fame, wealth, and gender, they more immediately were an attempt to defer judgement on her personal life, which was nevertheless devoured by UK tabloids. Her rotating forms of self-presentation were a crucial attempt at self-preservation.

But even if her facades had successfully warded off the media’s leering eye—even if she hadn’t been dubbed “Britain’s most tortured rock star” after a brief, failed marriage to a Hare Krishna devotee and an appearance in the Al Pacino flop Revolution—Lennox might still have justifiably burnt out by the end of the decade. Eurythmics were incredibly prolific, releasing almost an album a year starting with their 1981 debut In the Garden. Almost every album begot an international tour, with little downtime to recuperate. “I had this vision constantly towards the end of the Eurythmics period,” Lennox later told Q, “my life was a bus, but I was running behind it. I just could not catch up with that fucking bus.”

By the time she and Stewart released We Too Are One, their seventh studio album, both seemed irritable and detached from their art. Lennox often barely spoke a word in interviews. Stewart, the posh eccentric, was increasingly frustrated by the way Lennox’s magnetic presence had come to overshadow his contributions. Whether intentional or not, the album’s cover—Lennox’s blue eyes sharply front-and-center, with Stewart blurred into the background—summarized the tense disparities in their dynamic. The duo quietly split a year later without officially acknowledging a hiatus.

Though Lennox continued to accept awards for her work with Eurythmics through the following year, she badly wanted to step back from the band’s constant pressures. In addition to the grueling release schedule and public scrutiny, she had experienced a deep personal loss with the stillbirth of her first child immediately prior to recording We Too Are One. Upon receiving the Brit Award for Female Solo Artist in 1990 (her fourth since 1984), she told reporters that she was retiring for two years “to refuel my batteries, relax with my family, and get involved with the causes I feel very strongly about.”

As Eurythmics faded, it seemed as if Lennox could finally find peace in privacy: In 1988 she married the documentarian Uri Fruchtmann, and in 1990, gave birth to a daughter, Lola. But after a decade of constant reinvention, Lennox, understandably, felt a bit listless at home. “When I was pregnant, I had a lot of time to fill,” she told Maclean’s. “I just discovered that there was this itch, because I wasn’t writing.” Diva, her solo debut, was born from her deliberate attempt to withdraw from the spotlight.

She began writing the album during her pregnancy with the help of synth whiz Marius de Vries, recording at her home in Maida Vale before and after Lola’s birth, alongside producer Steve Lipson (who had recently worked with Simple Minds). After years in Eurythmics, Lennox initially felt paralyzed writing without Stewart’s guidance, and she struggled to create art out of her contentment. “Sometimes I feel I’m just not miserable enough,” she later confessed. Lipson, according to Lennox, dealt with her writer’s block by telling her she was on her own: “You’re the writer, that’s your gig,” she recalled him saying. “I’m not going to help you, go downstairs and do it.” After 15 months of wrestling with her newfound artistic independence, she finally completed the record.

Diva broke dramatically with Eurythmics in style and substance: Where her work with Stewart trafficked in restless anxieties, her solo work was a step towards the wistful, patient resolve of womanhood. That maturity is reflected in her directness, as if motherhood had diminished the returns of wry metaphors. “Precious” celebrates Lola’s birth with effusive gratitude: “I was lost until you came,” she sings, her words thick with sentimentality. The protagonist of “Legend in My Living Room” leaves home at 17, just as Lennox had, an atypically autobiographical and unsubtle portrait of her early aspirations. “Have mercy,” she pleads—it’s difficult to tell if she’s singing to the audience, or to her younger self. Though she only occasionally addresses the “diva” persona in her writing, the pressure of celebrity underscores her anxieties throughout: the existential ennui of “Little Bird,” the regrets of “Cold,” the longing to be accepted in her own skin on “Stay by Me.”

For an album so difficult to write, the music goes down deceptively smooth. Songs about heartbreak, loneliness, the loss of a child and of youthful innocence are adorned with punchy synths, jazzy bass, and tropicália melodies. Lennox’s first and favorite instrument is the piano; it’s her go-to for live performance and what she used to compose the record. In Stewart’s absence, her compositions find room to breathe. After a decade in the shadow of buzzing electronics, her piano feels utterly liberating on Diva—the cascading notes of “Why” accent the elongated vowels of her croons, while the run that opens “Stay by Me” conjures the image of a virtuoso at the keys before launching into an appropriately ’90s trip-hop beat. But the song where Lennox sounds most musically free is also the album’s heaviest thematically. “Walking on Broken Glass” pairs a Carribean-inspired piano line with a mirrored melody on pizzicato strings, and like so many of Eurythmics’ best records, it takes an incredibly depressing concept—romantic abandonment—and maps it onto an irresistibly danceable tune.

Despite the velvetine, varied instrumentation on Diva, Lennox’s voice is the album’s most essential and expansive element. While Eurythmics often incorporated guest singers, Diva’s vocals are entirely hers, from the smooth curves of her balladry to the perhaps regrettable rap-singing on “Money Can’t Buy It.” Her voice was always a central component in her previous band, but here her vocals become a veritable one-woman orchestra. From the harmonic overdubs of “Walking on Broken Glass” to the soulful belt of “Precious,” she sounds entirely fluid. “Little Bird” offers the broadest sampling of her vocal bag of tricks: She chants, she reaches into her falsetto, she sings backing harmonies that range from Greek chorus to men’s choir. When the instrumentation is heavy-handed—canned synth strings, Law & Order basslines, over-the-top percussive flourishes—her voice marries the melodies.

Lennox approached the promotion of Diva as an ironic exploration of its title. “I’m singing about how people respond to the act of performing and also how I respond to it,” she told Billboard. The accompanying video album adds texture to her concept of a “diva who has seen better days.” Directed by Sophie Muller, who also worked on the video album for Eurythmics’ Savage, the 10 clips examine identity and beauty with an unwavering fixation on Lennox’s striking visage. “Why” opens on a barefaced Lennox with dampened hair, an almost jarring image after a career of wigs, face paint, and costumes. Then, with eyeshadow and feather boas, she gradually transforms herself into the titular diva, becoming barely recognizable beneath a massive feathered headdress. It’s a peek into the machinations of celebrity, the pains Lennox took to keep a mask between public perception and her own self-image. In the video for “Little Bird,” she appears as a ringmaster, extremely pregnant with her second daughter Tali and surrounded by look-alikes dressed as her personas from past music videos, from the Big Brother boss of 1983’s “Sweet Dreams” to the contemporary diva from “Why.” The women compete for the spotlight, crowding Lennox out of her own performance. It’s a bold metacommentary on both the visual iconography of her career and the media’s propensity for conflating the character onstage with the person beneath the costume.

Though many of Diva’s singles still resonate, it’s Lennox’s cynical, camp approach to celebrity culture that remains most futuristic and profound. From Lady Gaga’s concept of a “Fame Monster” to personas like Marina Diamandis’ Marina and the Diamonds, exploring the darker side of fame through exaggerated precautionary tales has become a well-trodden path for avant-pop stars. Even in the world of bubblegum smash hits, there are echoes of her influence: The miserable rich girl drowning in diamonds on “Money Can’t Buy It” shares a strange, sad kinship with the lonely star of Britney Spears’ “Lucky.” And thanks to a chance meeting via a shared manager, it was Lennox who encouraged the members of the Spice Girls to evolve their individual styles into the group’s now-iconic five distinct characters—Emma Bunton would be not just a cute blonde, but Baby Spice. In an ironic twist, Lennox helped to conceptualize one of the most hyper-commodified pop vehicles in recent history.

In a decade marked by the meteoric rise of prefab boy bands, the explosion and subsequent implosion of Britpop, and the tragic, paparazzi-fueled death of Princess Diana, Diva is a prophetic warning about the acceleration of fame. Even at the time of its release, Lennox recognized the dangers. “I don’t see an end to it,” she said of Madonna’s ascent at the time. “It’s a kind of power craving that I think is rather insatiable.… Are we supposed to admire power for its own sake?” In her eerily predictive manner, Lennox identified Ivana Trump as a bellwether for the growing influence wielded by, as she put it in 1992, “people famous for being famous.” Public recognition was no longer correlated to talent, she argued, but was instead fueled by the craving for power and control. The same MTV that drove Eurythmics’ success would soon pivot to fame-hungry reality programming: The Real World premiered the month after Diva’s release.

In a rare happy ending for the tabloids’ “tragic Annie,” Lennox was able to exit the endless carousel of celebrity. Though Diva immediately topped the UK album chart, she did not tour the record, instead taking time to care for her daughters and pursue anti-AIDS activism. Her records since then have been infrequent, never attempting to match the breakneck pace of Eurythmics. Many are cover albums, perhaps a subtle way to step into new personalities without excavating her own past selves. Lennox was keenly aware of what she called the “Faustian deal” between exposure and artistic fulfillment. “I can deal with it now,” she reasoned just after Diva’s release, “because I think I can jump off anytime.” Diva was the fitting beginning to a tactful denouement, a graceful and grandiose leap into a more private life.
Share on Google Plus

About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Annie Lennox - Diva Music Album Reviews Annie Lennox - Diva Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on July 25, 2021 Rating: 5


Post a Comment