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Annie Lennox - Songs of Mass Destruction Print E-mail
Thursday, 01 November 2007
format:    16-bit CD
performance:    9
sound:    9
released:    2007
label:    Arista
reviewer:    John Sutton-Smith

ImageTourist, Eurythmic, and solo star Annie Lennox’s distinguished pop career has spanned more than 25 years, won her Grammys, Brits, a Golden Globe and an Oscar. From the sinewy soul of her (and longtime partner Dave Stewart’s) pop hits with Eurythmics to three distinctively personal and powerful solo albums – the first one Diva, released in 1992, was followed intermittently by Medusa and Bare – the fiery Scottish chanteuse has defined classy contemporary popular music, full of vocal power, emotional nuance and a bit of spirit.

As the title succinctly implies, Songs of Mass Destruction is an equally hefty work, her undeniable vocal elegance and intelligence tackling topical themes and emotions. Annie’s gorgeous pipes radiate both melancholy and defiance in equal measure, whether directing it towards hearts broken by relationships, warfare or unnecessary suffering.

The album is a fair balance of ballads and upbeat numbers, from the introspective "Dark Road" through the funky "Ghosts in My Machine" to the R&B-fueled “Womankind,” and Lennox uses the warmth and richness in her mighty voice to offer self-assurance and solace in an uncertain world. She keeps full command of her emotions and uses every delicate shade of her considerable vocal range to paint a worldly-wise landscape of lost love, dreams betrayed and life still to live.
The opening "Dark Road," with it’s sinuous melodic flow, the powerful “Smithereens,” with Lennox alone at the piano, and the life-questioning "Lost" all offer measures of regret and pain, though couched so beautifully in Annie’s aching voice that she makes heartbreak sound beautiful, as on the powerfully plaintive “Fingernail Moon,” which closes the set. But her resolve and determined spirit, such an important part of her musical identity and popularity in studio and on stage, are fairly stamped across confident, upbeat tracks like the club-style “Coloured Bedspread,” "Ghosts in My Machine," the almost anthemic "Womankind," and the uplifting "Sing," culminating with its African vocal coda, uniting the likes of Madonna, Pink, Shakira and 20 other female stars to benefit Treatment Action Campaign, which raises funds to treat and educate those with AIDS in South Africa.

Because of the powerful personality and distinctive character of her voice, Lennox is probably still most effective solo, playing at her piano. She takes “Lost” from a simple questioning plaint to an epic tour de force, and "Smithereens," one of the strongest songs here, is a beautifully written ballad with a sweeping pop melody. There is no doubt that a sad, world-weary tone runs through this set, but Lennox infuses a certain honesty and optimism, not to mention vitality, into each song that always seems to strengthen the resolve and comfort the spirit.

If there is ever a positive side to emerge from the last six years of war, lies and corruption, it is perhaps only that it inspired Lennox to create this powerful statement of the union in beautifully-crafted, intelligently-written and so powerfully and effortlessly performed.

Produced by Glen Ballard, this is a quintessential pop record, built around Annie’s remarkable voice and her independent sense of spirit, which emerges as much in her music itself as in her personality. There are extremely delicate moments here, captured by a single piano or string, while there are some thunderous tracks driven at full percussive power, led either way by Annie’s enormous vocal and emotional range.

It is her voice here that sweeps up the listener with its effortless power; Lennox’s control as she cascades from soft to loud, mournful to triumphant, is really remarkable. So much so that it's easy to forget how hard it is to write such delicately complex material, as well as arrange and record it correctly. In Mass Destruction, Ballard and Lennox have forged a diamond of sound and song that proves Annie is quite simply a master of her art and still at the height of her creativity.

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