June 1, 2015 Annie Lennox – Nostalgia (Album Review)
In the last decade and a half, the Scottish-born artist Annie Lennox has been regarded as one of the quirky female Pop artists. With an easily distinguishable voice, her music and sense of fashion have strong New Wave sensibilities and may reside in the same class and glamour as the likes of Cyndi Lauper and Sinéad O’Connor. However, back in the 1980s, Lennox was more known as the female half of the New Wave/Synthpop duo Eurythmics, with Dave Stewart as the male half. The music of Eurythmics—represented by eight studio albums; from 1981’s In the Garden to 1999’s Peace—has been usually described as New Wave/Synthpop primarily because of the common sonic characteristics of the singles that made the duo internationally popular. These hit singles included “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” “Who’s That Girl?,” “Here Comes the Rain Again,” and “There Must Be an Angel (Playing with My Heart);” and all of these share the same basic sound that is characterized by Lennox’s soulful alto voice, synthesizer-based rhythm section, string ornamentation, and Stewart’s mildly angular guitar flourishes.
As a solo artist, Lennox began her career in 1992 when she released her debut album, Diva. The dominant style in this release, as well as that of the follow up, 1995’s Medusa, did not really stray far away from the sound of her former band. Despite the incorporation of stronger, old Soul and R’n’B elements, the Synthpop sensibilities and her suave, velvety vocal styling remained as dominant as ever. While 2003’s Bare was more guitar-oriented in a Folk kind of way, the next one, 2007’s Songs of Mass Destruction, was a mix of upbeat Pop, Rock, and Electronic Dance tracks with a few doses of piano-based ballads. Because the solo discography of Lennox has been commonly represented by only her popular singles such as “Why,” “Walking on Broken Glass,” and her cover of The Lover Speaks’ “No More ‘I Love Yous’,” all of which share the Pop sensibilities of many Eurythmics songs, many listeners did not really get to explore the other facets of Lennox’s music via her post-’90s albums. This can be the reason the same type of listeners might find Nostalgia, the latest, sixth opus of Lennox, a bit alien to them. However, if they are familiar, especially with 2010’s A Christmas in Cornucopia, the album preceding it, then they would have connected the dots. They would have acknowledged that, after all, there was no missing link between Lennox’s latest album and the previous ones. Whereas Cornucopia is basically a collection of Lennox’s favorite Christmas songs, Nostalgia is simply a sonic image of Lennox as she dug much farther back into her past.
Released on September 30, 2014 via Island, Nostalgia features cover versions of songs mostly released in the 1930s. In spite of the Traditional Pop direction that Lennox pursued in this latest offering, the style of the album should by now be only half-surprising, for Lennox seemed to have simply decided to stretch her inspirational compass onto her earliest and deepest roots. Considering that the style of Eurythmics and Lennox has always been Pop-oriented with a whiff of R’n’B anyway, to mine further the archives of Pop music is but a natural thing to do for an introspective artist such as Lennox; and, of course, what is there to find in that particular period of Pop music but whatever songs were popular in those days. This was what Lennox did; that was the type of songs that she decided to interpret for her most recent release. Of the dozen songs Nostalgia contains, ten originally belonged to the so-called American Pop and Jazz standards of the 1930s: “Memphis in June,” “Georgia in My Mind,” George Gershwin’s “Summertime,” “I Cover the Waterfront,” “Strange Fruit,” “God Bless the Child,” “September in the Rain,” “I Can Dream, Can’t I?,” “The Nearness of You,” and “Mood Indigo.” With Lennox’s already soulful voice and dark vocal timbre, she certainly whips those songs up with so much ease and confidence. The accompanying music itself remained true to the respective songs’ old Soul and jazzy mood. At the same time, because of the characteristic semi-operatic and rustic voice of Lennox, the album fits well into the entire Lennox solo discography.
Thus, to regard Lennox now as the female counterpart of the classic golden voices of Traditional Pop music such as Frank Sinatra, Matt Monro, Johnny Mathis, and Paul Anka is fairly befitting. Nostalgia will serve as the musical proof. Furthermore, it is also not out of place in the contemporary arena. Listeners may file it alongside the works of newer Traditional Pop crooners and chanteuses like Michael Bublé and Adele. Overall, Nostalgia is simply Lennox’s attempt to embark on a nostalgic, sonic journey much farther into her childhood musical roots and to cover whatever era of Pop music she has not yet covered in the past. Lennox, with her new album, while far-reaching, is still within her domain after all. For all these, CrypticRock gives Nostalgia 4 out of 5 stars.