November 1, 2007

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Annie Lennox Songs of Mass Destruction
Arista, Oct. 2
Annie Lennox has a lot of drive for someone so professedly unhappy.

Songs of Mass Destruction opens with “It’s a dark road … that leads to my house” and the song continues, “I can’t find the joy within my soul / It’s just sadness takin’ hold.”

Elsewhere she sings about being “so screwed up,” about obsession and grief and please would someone save her.

Yet there are few singers who sound more empowered than Annie Lennox. At the same time as her lyrics transmit despondency, her sound is ever strong. It’s hard not to notice that she’s singing “Can’t remember what it feels like to be strong” in a voice that could bowl over ten oxen.

Lennox’s commentary over the songs — a bonus feature on the “deluxe edition” — softens the image, though. Songs like “Dark Road” sound good with a voiceover: muted, the music makes a nice background to a contemplation of life’s journeys. Oh, that’s what she means. It helps. Not that her explanations add much to the lyrics, but hearing her speak — softly, as it turns out — rounds out the picture. (Almost all of her commentary is about what feelings she wants to convey with the songs; very little is about the music-making process.)

With Glenn Ballard at the helm, Lennox’s fourth post-Eurythmics album (after Diva, Medusa, and 2003’s Bare) is still unmistakably Annie Lennox, theme-wise and sound-wise. That is, it is more of the same, and so you already know where you will stand on it. She laments a lot and wants us all to try harder. She does not sing so much as she belts out songs. Every tune is highly polished and choreographed. It’s a little less Motowny and a little more strident than Bare was. “Coloured Bedspread” borrows notes from “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” and “Womankind” brings in Eurythmics-style trilling sound effects. “Ghosts in My Machine” (“I know too much / I hurt too much / I feel too much / I dread too much”), despite its anguished words, is catchy in an “Addicted to Love”/“Big Time” eighties way.

Individual tunes are not all that memorable except in the short term, but the whole would make an excellent soundtrack to a big-dreams movie with an empowerment motif. B+Lisa Parsons