Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Eurythmics: Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) And Touch

"It's savage and it's cruel and it shines like destruction
Comes in like a flood and it seems like religion
It's noble and it's brutal, it distorts and deranges
And it drenches you up and you're left like a zombie"

-Love Is A Stranger, Eurythmics-

This girl can sing. She still has the voice. Sweet dreams are made
of this stuff indeed.

From the moment singer Annie Lennox arrived on the world stage in the music video for Sweet Dreams (1982-1983) with her close-cropped red hair, while androdynously attired in a business suit, a star was born.  Launching the haunting electronica, the Eurythmics mastered the visual medium as much as it did the music.  The image of Lennox in a board room juxtaposed by farm pastures and a dairy cow as well as classical instruments signalled a group that embraced a collision of ideas new and old.  There was indeed a sexy intelligence to their style clashing the old world with the new in both sound and style.  Annie Lennox and David A. Stewart's Eurythmics were born. For years Lennox appeared to channel David Bowie's visual style with a love for altering character for each performance. She was indeed a big part of what made the 80s so vibrant.

Singer Annie Lennox reunited with David A. Stewart for The Beatles tribute (scheduled for Feb 9) performed in Los Angeles following the Grammy Awards.  I hardly believe she'll miss a beat performing Fool On The Hill, but have yet to see it. And by God, that voice hailing from Aberdeen, Scotland, always sent goose bumps up the spine. Seeing her together with Stewart again will no doubt be a thrill.  Their last recording together was Peace (1999).  The duo's first recording together came as The Tourists in 1979.  Their first Eurythmics recording was In The Garden (1981). The two met in 1975. It's been an astounding forty-year partnership or association making beautiful music.

Annie Lennox was well into her early twenties when she started to get noticed joining studio genius David A. Stewart for The Catch and then The Tourists (1977-1980). It was a slow start.

It was 1981 before the duo of Lennox and Stewart forged the Eurythmics and released their debut, In The Garden, under the duo's now famous moniker. Lennox, born in 1954, and Stewart, born in 1952, enjoyed a romantic partnership along with their creative link in the early going.

With the arrival of Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) (1983) the Eurythmics hit pay dirt, their stride and sound. Next to acts like Duran Duran, Eurythmics was one of those outfits that could turn a tune, craft a pop confection with artful mastery. The 1980s seemed to tap into something magical and some real talent (Thompson Twins, Tears For Fears) burst forth engineering some of the world's damn near finest pop music ever made. Somewhat surprisingly, the arrival of the Eurythmics was late by today's pop standards where teenage pop, Disney and Nickelodeon divas are churned out at a restless pace beginning in their teens.  But when the Eurythmics hit big they seemed to find their niche with a unique sound for a colorful duo within the equally vivid 1980s.

By the time Eurythmics released Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) Lennox was nearly thirty years old and Stewart in his thirties. That's a fairly astounding feat and one that would unlikely repeat amidst the ageism of today's pop worshipping society where youth is king and raw talent with real intelligence takes the proverbial back seat with those obsessed with image.  Thankfully, Lennox and Stewart kind of had it all and age never became an albatross. As the old adage goes, some of us are just late bloomers.

Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) is a well-crafted masterpiece and its dark, almost brooding synth-heavy constructions still have a sense of artistic adventurousness, innocence and naivete about them. Stewart and Lennox put their vision into the music and their visual presentation with every release. Every album and every single sported a new character and a new look. Lennox had it all over Lady Gaga long, long ago. Fearless with visual reinvention Lennox voraciously approached character portraits in her music like a New York theatre performer. Her androgynous, red-haired, business man with lipstick was almost creepy, but ushered in the 1980s at the dawn of MTV and the Reagan era capturing a single visual moment in image as powerfully encapsulated as any band of the era. The title track's accompanying music video, as noted earlier, offered the juxtaposition of the corporate world and the aggressive nature of technology against our agrarian roots and our traditional past through the incorporation of Holstein cows and rolling green pastures. It couldn't have been a more perfect fusion, from traditional string instruments to electronica, Eurythmics were making a massive statement both musically and visually.

It's easy to forget about the classics. I often step away from my favorites only to return to them years later and rediscover just how powerful they once were and still remain.  That's not always the case, but Eurythmics qualifies.

The Eurythmics arrived with creative overload after years of building a reputation, working hard and attempting to bring their special brand of music and theatrics to the fore. The arrival of MTV seemed perfectly suited for the intent of Lennox and Stewart. Together they thrived.  The multi-instrumental talent of Stewart was supported by the complex muse and voice of Lennox, which yielded a decade of classics.

The audio and visual excitement truly began with their sophomore effort, Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This). The driving, pulsing title track is backed by a production of greats. The weird but catchy Love Is A Stranger instantly recalls Brian DePalma's Dressed To Kill (1980) with its flair for the visually provacative. There was indeed a machine-like quality pushing through the heart of the production reminiscent of a milking parlor for cows. Stewart could ride a single avant garde sound elevating it to epic pop, while Lennox could take word repetition to artistic new heights and the amalgamation of the two always worked to great effect.

The pre-Twin Peakish Jennifer, The Walk, I've Got An Angel, Wrap It Up with Scritti Politti's Green Gartside, I Could Give You [A Mirror], the Spanish-influenced This Is The House, Somebody Told Me, and the Blade Runner-esque noir of This City Never Sleeps round out a collection that must be experienced to be fully appreciated. It is a massive audio experiment.

Now, something relatively unheard of then, and even now, happened. Eurythmics released the Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) production in January 1983. Bursting with ideas the duo returned with their third recording the same year with Touch [1983] in November that same year and more experimental than ever. It's astounding when you stop to consider it.

In many respects, Touch is a natural evolution and continuation of the previous recording, a real sister project to Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) which is why the powerfully somber lead single Here Comes The Rain Again was the natural lead. It seemed the natural choice in spirit given their initial success.

After that single, Touch is a plethora of near experimental synthesizer and it would become an effort even more rewarding with each new listen. Touch is an underrated masterpiece chock full of amazing songs from Who's That Girl to Aqua, Cool Blue, Regrets, The First Cut and No Fear, No Hate, No Pain [No Broken Hearts]. The Eurythmics had indeed been touched in 1983 and like Howard Jones with Human's Lib (1984) and Dream Into Action (1985), Lennox and Stewart had delivered two consecutive, near perfect recordings that remain unique aural experiences untouched by time thanks in part to clever arrangements and an ageless voice.

At the height of their musical powers Eurythmics took a bit of a detour commercially, but not artistically or creatively. The duo was on track and with little fanfare returned in 1984 with the soundtrack to Michael Radford's dystopian 1984 starring John Hurt and based on the novel by George Orwell, 1984 For The Love Of Big Brother [1984], was a thrilling studio effort combining score-like compositions with that haunting Lennox voice all too fitting to the world of Orwell despite the controversy surrounding the production and Radford's insistence he wanted nothing to do with a Eurythmics' score for his film. Although a commercial failure, like the film, the soundtrack by Eurythmics for that film should be revisited. The score is filled with some of the most beautiful 80s era synth with which you'll ever immerse yourself. Julia, Doubleplusgood, I Did It Just The Same, For The Love Of Big Brother and the intended lead single Sexcrime [nineteen eighty-four] are all standout examples of the compositions expertly designed for the project by the duo.

With Eurythmics firmly planted on the pop music landscape it seemed the world was theirs for the taking. Be Yourself Tonight [1985] arrived to mixed reviews despite an overtly commercial stance on the effort. Some, if I recall, referred to the work as an unfocused or schizophrenic affair. There are indeed many styles in play for the effort. With the title firmly speaking to the act's identity many noted Eurythmics were hardly being themselves with relying instead on guests like Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin in supporting roles among others. Still, tracks like It's Alright (Baby's Coming Back), Conditioned Soul and Would I Lie To You are sparkling examples of a duo at the height of their creative prowess.

The rock-inspired Revenge [1986] had a few notable selections, but remains perhaps my least favorite Eurythmics effort in their oeuvre.

Perhaps one of their most underrated arrivals was the wonderful Savage [1987], which delivered an almost retro-styled throwback to what made Sweet Dreams and Touch so delicious. For me, Savage was an inspired revelation filled with uber-cool, synth pop confections. I would be hard-pressed not to include Savage among their very best moments noting classics like You Have Placed A Chill I My Heart, Beethoven (I Love To Listen To), Shame and Heaven to name a few.

We Too Are One [1989] was another hit and miss record more in keeping with Be Yourself Tonight and Revenge, but stronger than the latter. In fact, the recording would be their last for a decade and included some of the duo's finest pop numbers in Don't Ask Me Why and Angel. But a break seemed in the offering. The duo did return with Peace [1999] and a beautifully conceived and stirring title track. But since then it has remained relatively quiet for Lennox and Stewart as a duo.

As everyone knows, Lennox went solo and received scores of accolades and awards beginning with Diva [1993].  With Why and Cold Lennox seemed to float with an elegance and a confidence she finally seemed willing to flaunt from the shadows of her mentor Stewart. Medusa [1995] was a strong covers album as cover recordings go. Bare [2003] and Songs Of Mass Destruction [2007] had their moments. With her release of A Christmas Cornucopia [2010] she continues to shine and prove she can sing better than most young birds today.

Stewart was no slouch either producing some of the damn near finest pop records in a decade. Not only was he responsible for crafting the Eurythmics brand, but was the man behind perhaps one of my favorite solo albums in music history in Daryl Hall's Three Heart In The Happy-Ending Machine [1987]. Also notable was his work on Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers Southern Accents [1985] and the massive pop hit that was Don't Come Around Here No More backed by its creative, fantasy-inspired, Alice In Wonderland music video. He also worked on Deep In The Heart Of Nowhere [1986] for Bob Geldof with Annie on This Is The World Calling, produced some terrific music for Lily Was Here (1989) and worked recently with Stevie Nicks.  Yes, the man is a pop genius.

Once again reflecting back on the very best of the 1980s. It's easy to make the call on Eurythmics as one of the most potent pop forces in the universe for a period of time. They may not have broke new ground, but Stewart and Lennox gift for reinvention and the theatrical combined with incredible pop music made for a few recordings that remain essential to any music fan's library.

Hearing Lennox with that radiant, powerful, special voice brimming with emotional range brings you back to days long gone when pop music felt creative and not merely phoned in. It existed once upon a time in the 1980s when everything was colorful and a bit sci-fi. It's always good to see signs of life in new artists like Foster The People or in returning legends like the incomparable, award-winning Annie Lennox and Eurythmics.

Eurythmics Discography:
In The Garden (1981)
Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) (1982-83)*
Touch (1983)*
Touch Dance (1984)
1984 (For The Love Of Big Brother) (1984)
Be Yourself Tonight (1985)
Revenge (1986)
Savage (1987)*
We Too Are One (1989)
Greatest Hits (1991)
Live 1983-1989 (1993)
Peace (1999)
Ultimate Collection (2005)*

Annie Lennox Discography:

Diva (1992)
Medusa (1995)
Bare (2003)
Songs Of Mass Destruction (2005)
The Annie Lennox Collection (2009)*
A Christmas Cornucopia (2010)



Dar said...

I'm no expert, but from what I read the Eurythmics were a rock band that simply turned to synthpop for ther second album because their first wasn't a hit and synthpop was all the rage back then, and once they became famous they went back to rock.

Yes? No?

SFF said...

Hi Dar

I think that somewhat fair of you to say.

Eurythmics, previously the Tourists, didn't shy from rock and roll or performing live, and there may be some truth in the fact Eurythmics went back to the drawing board to reinvent themselves a bit.

Think Everything But the Girl and how Ben Watt incorporated drum and bass into their music arrived with that big hit Missing and went down a very different musical path for a time.

But, it's also fair to say that Dave Stewart is a multi-talented genius. He can play the guitar with the best of them. He can also play the synth and program with the best of them.

And, as you say, taking a cue from the likes of Kraftwerk and others, reinvented their approach for Sweet Dreams putting the Stewart/ Lennox stamp on things.

It's probably true that Eurythmics were not innovators, but were innovative with the tools around them. They took new approaches with some of those sounds and with the coursing blood of Lennox vocal pipes came out with something inspired and original all their own.

But you really can't pigeonhole Eurythmics, their style was all over the map after Sweet Dreams with the calypso sounds of Right By Your Side from touch to the rock stylings of the fantastic Missionary man right back to the synth world of the album Savage. So, yes, they weren't afraid to try new things.

They definitely refined their approach and came up with something special for Sweet Dreams using synths to great effect but also applying Lennox keen sense of visual play and character portrayal in music video, another medium that clearly served them well with the arrival of Sweet Dreams. Their sound, style and use of video gave them something very special to work with for a decade.

I hope I didn't bore you with my reply, but you got me thinking and I wanted to give you a thoughtful response. Take care. sff