CD Review of Songs of Mass Destruction by Annie Lennox
Recommended if you like
Imogen Heap, Sarah McLachlan,
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Label
Arista
Annie Lennox:
Songs of Mass Destruction

Reviewed by Jeff Giles

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A
fter savoring the skeletal majesty of 2003’s spare, stunning Bare, Annie Lennox’s fans might have shuddered a bit upon hearing the news that the erstwhile Eurythmic had chosen Glen Ballard to produce her next album – and that it had the ominously silly title Songs of Mass Destruction. Lennox’s acolytes might be a patient lot – counting the brief Eurythmics reunion, Destruction marks only the fifth new album she’s been involved with since 1989 – but they’ve grown accustomed to a certain measure of quality from her albums.

As it turns out, there was never anything to worry about. Ballard, for all his flaws, has acquired something of a bum rap since becoming the knob-twiddler du jour in the mid ‘90s. The popular knock against him now is that he’s an intrusive producer, but don’t forget, this is a guy who went from doing Jack Wagner albums in the ‘80s to shepherding Alanis Morissette’s rise to stardom a decade later. You don’t get from “All I Need” to “You Oughta Know” without a certain amount of flexibility, and on this collection, Ballard’s presence is not only benign, it might even have been crucial.

Annie Lennox

More than any of her previous solo albums, Destruction hearkens back to Lennox’s Eurythmics albums – tracks such as “Coloured Bedspread,” “Love Is Blind” and “Ghost in My Machine” bristle with the strident electro-pop energy of earlier ass-kicking numbers like “Missionary Man,” and the icy splash of Ballard’s production provides a 21st-century echo of the classic records Lennox turned out with Dave Stewart. We’re talking a matter of degrees, of course – it isn’t as if Lennox made a 180-degree turn after striking out as a solo artist – but the difference, however slight, will be felt by longtime fans. It’s as though Lennox realized that, with Bare, she’d presented herself as nakedly personal – as purely solo – as she’d ever be able to, and the time was right for a retrenching of earlier artistic statements.

Vocally, Lennox remains the same flawless, vaguely terrifying porcelain machine she’s always been, wandering the same hellish valley of heartbreak and loneliness that seem to have motivated every song she’s ever written. It goes without saying that this is not a happy album – in fact, Lennox may not have ever written a happy song – but if it’s raw emotion you’re looking for, flawlessly expressed and beautifully arranged, then Songs of Mass Destruction is the tonic for what ails you.

The majority of the buzz surrounding this album will have to do with “Sing,” a for-charity feminist anthem for which Lennox recruited a ridiculous choir of well-known backing vocalists. Ever heard of Beth Gibbons, Madonna, Celine Dion, Beth Orton, Angélique Kidjo, Shakira, Sarah McLachlan, Faith Hill, Fergie, Beverley Knight, Martha Wainwright, k.d. lang, Shingai Shoniwa, KT Tunstall, Bonnie Raitt, Dido, Gladys Knight, Anastacia, or Melissa Etheridge? They’re all here. It’s a nifty promotional hook – and a no-brainer choice for the first single – but it’s far from the best song on the album; a year from now, fans are far more likely to be trawling the emotional depths of searing tracks such as “Lost.” If “Sing” gets Lennox back on the radio, though – and moves a few copies of Songs of Mass Destruction through the retail pipeline – so much the better; whichever angle you approach it from, the album deserves to be heard.

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