Monday, November 25, 2013

CD Odyssey Disc 570: The Eurythmics

I’m just back from a good workout, feeling good and looking forward to a short work week (I am taking a couple days off this week).

But there is one thing that never takes a day off, and that’s my ongoing efforts to listen to every damned album I own and then talk about each one of them.  That’s what this blog is mostly about, in case you’re new.

Disc 570 is…. Touch
Artist: The Eurythmics

Year of Release: 1983

What’s up with the Cover?  The incredibly sexy lead singer of the Eurythmics, Annie Lennox, strikes a pose.  From the athletic curve of her shoulders, up the muscles of her neck to the bright flame-red hair and back down to the leather mask and the defiant glance she casts from behind it, this cover is both simple and sexy.  Well played, Eurythmics, well played.

How I Came To Know It:  This was not a big album for me back in 1983.  Even though I did like the Eurythmics, this wasn’t a record that got a lot of attention, outside of the video for “Here Comes the Rain Again.”  This was just me years later digging through the band’s back catalogue of albums once I realized they didn’t make any bad ones. 

How It Stacks Up:  We have five Eurythmics albums.  We’re still missing “In the Garden” and “Be Yourself Tonight” but I’ll remedy those oversights soon enough.  Of the five we do have, “Touch” is good, but I must reluctantly rank it fifth out of five.  I still like it, though.

Rating:  3 stars

Earlier Eurythmics reviews explored the band’s later albums (don’t blame me – the order is random), so this was my first chance to review something from their earlier work, and I enjoyed it.

Albums like “Touch” have a much more experimental feel to them.  The R&B influences are still there (as they are in most British pop music) but proto-techno sounds are much more prevalent. 

My earliest memory of this album is watching the moody video for “Here Comes the Rain Again.”  I was seriously into heavy metal at the time, but couldn’t resist Annie Lennox standing on some windswept cliff wrapped up in a medieval cloak.  I may have been a metal fan, but at thirteen I also liked fantasy novels and pretty girls.

What surprised me more was how much I liked the driving synth beat of the song.  Lennox’s voice was filled with new frontiers of mystery. Amid the ongoing pop vs. rock debates at high school that week, I decided to go out on a limb and defend this band among my long-haired peers only to find…they agreed.

There is an innovative edge to the Eurythmic’s early music that is hard to resist, and although at the time I only knew the singles, “Touch” as an album has plenty of examples of this.  The sound is techno, and full of synth and samples which are ultimately used to create the same effect that R&B had done ten years earlier; lay down a groove.

My favourite example of this is on “Aqua,” which mixes a groovy bass riff, some African rhythms and a smooth jazz vocal from Lennox to create a funky beat that feels slightly uncomfortable in exactly the proportion the song’s lyrics of betrayal require.  This is a hidden gem of a song, and another shining example of what you’ll miss out on if you insist on sticking with that damned copy of the Eurythmics Greatest Hits on your dusty CD shelf.

When you’re this ambitious, however, you are going to sometimes miss, and the things that make “Aqua” so well have the effect of wrecking another promising song on the album, “Paint a Rumour.”  This song starts off with a similar approach.  Lennox sings simply lines over and over again, while odd synth sounds layer in a groove.  The ‘computer processing’ sounds work at the beginning, but halfway through they become overdone and the song begins to dissemble into what sounds unpleasantly like modern techno music.  Also like modern techno, the song goes on for far too long (It is 7:30 and should be about half that).

For similar reasons I don’t like one of the album’s hits, “Right By Your Side” with its calypso drums, awkward hand claps and police whistles.  The melody of this song could stand alone, but it is buried in all this artifice like a room with too many pictures hanging on the walls.  Worst of all, it ends with a sax solo fade out.  Dave Stewart – you are better than that.

Paint a Rumour” and “Right By Your Side” are the exceptions however and other layered techno-dance tracks including “Regrets,” “The First Cut” and “Cool Blue” all work well in basically the same way.  So for that, let’s give a big chunk of credit to the other half of the Eurythmics, guitar player and producer Dave Stewart, who seamlessly melds Lennox’s smooth vocals over some genuinely interesting studio decisions.

I don’t look for “Touch” to keep things simple; it isn’t what this record’s vibe is about.  However, the exception to this is “Who’s That Girl?” a soulful vocal gem from Lennox, about infidelity and betrayal.  It is both dark and pretty, just like Lennox, and it leave you feeling both uncomfortable and slightly aroused at the same time.  In terms of tone it falls somewhere between the vague suspicions of Bill Wither’s “Who Is He (And What is He To You)?” and the full-on rage of Marianne Faithful’s “Why’d Ya Do it?” but it has earned its place among the great “I think you’re cheating” songs of our time.

Of course, you’d be crazy to cheat on Annie Lennox.  Even wearing that Barbara Streisand wig in the “Who’s That Girl?” video she still pulls off playful siren and slighted Valkyrie at the same time.  If you haven’t seen the video, you’re still just fine with the song, since she does all that with just her voice as well.

“Touch” isn’t the greatest Eurythmics album, but it has plenty of great moments, and is worth getting to know better.

Best tracks:   Here Comes the Rain Again, Regrets, Who’s That Girl?, Aqua

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Annie Lennox is a force of nature, agreed. I also enjoyed the two U2 reviews as I have been a long-time U2 fan. I came to your website via Sheila's blog. (Love her style.) I enjoy your intelligent and knowledgeable (and funny) comments about music. Today I have been listening to Daniel Lanois' albums, Acadie and For the Beauty of Wynona. He is well known for producing big names but deserves better recognition for for his own work. I searched your index but could not see that you have reviewed any of his albums. Unless I missed it. Would be interested in your take (if I may be so bold as to suggest it.) I know you do random, but...

Cheers, Violet. I may be anonymous but am female (hard to miss by the name) and reside (newly) in your same fair city. Also lived in your other fair city for 26 years, PR.