Review Summary: Despite the polemic title, this is simply a smooth collection of upbeat piano-pop and soaring ballads. No controversy intended
Annie Lennox seems to be somewhat misunderstood. After several years of immense success as one half of Eurythmics, she perhaps became better known for her humanitarian efforts than for her infrequent solo albums. This, coupled with her prominent appearance at Live 8, lend her the image of something like a female Bono. The title of her latest album reinforces this idea, but in fact it’s greatly misleading. Songs Of Mass Destruction
is instead far too lyrically ambiguous to be considered a full critique of foreign or social policy. What Annie has instead cooked up is a varied set of tracks that switch between upbeat pop stompers, dark, dreamlike introspections, soaring ballads, a feminist anthem or two…hey, there’s even a sexy, synthy club tune in there, and they all appeal to themes of hope and despair without ever mentioning such unromantic things as bombs or politicians.
It’s her voice that holds it all together. One of the best soul singers out there, she’s on top form throughout the album, fleshing out every track with her powerful vocals. Having written the whole thing by herself, Annie is obviously very comfortable in singer/songwriter mode, and has developed a rather Elton John-esque habit of underpinning most tracks (especially the up-tempo numbers) with hammering piano, most evident on the rigid, stomping minor chords on ’Love Is Blind’
, a song of desperation and self-harm. The sunny, gentle chorus to ’Smithereens’
is only helped by her soulful delivery, as is the staring-up-at-the-sky ballad ‘Fingernail Moon’
is an introspective opener that slowly rises in force, improved greatly by Annie’s emotive vocals, and she even makes the potentially over-serious ’Womankind’
funny with her over-the-top ”Buuuuurrrrrr bop, buuuuurrrrr bop”
hook. However, it‘s ’Coloured Bedspread’
, despite the daft title, that is the subtle highlight of the album. It’s a dark, sequencer-driven synthfest of electro riffs scuttling up against trippy acid lyrics, and harks back to her Eurythmics days (the similarity between this and ’Who’s That Girl?’
is particularly striking).
The centrepiece is the charidee single (okay, so a little bit of Bono got through) and feminist anthem, ’Sing’
. Featuring twenty-three famous female artists as backing singers (though it’s almost impossible to pick their voices out individually), it includes Madonna, Beth Orton, Dido, Gladys Knight, Pink, K. D. Lang, Beth Gibbons, Anastacia and…Shakira, amongst others, it is intended to raise awareness and funds for the Treatment Action Campaign, which aims to treat women in South Africa with HIV and Aids and prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV. The track is of the ’Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves’
ilk, all power vocals, soulful harmonies, and mutual backslaps (”Yeah! Sing it girl! C’mon!”
harmonises one unidentified singer).
Annie rarely stumbles. ’Ghosts In My Machine’
is a rather average pop/soul hybrid that wastes her voice, and ’Lost’
is an uncertain lullaby that meanders about far too much. But by and large, every other track contains a unique quality. This variety coupled with the smooth production of Songs Of Mass Destruction
makes it superior to all her solo material. By lending the pop sensibilities of Eurythmics and combining them with her own approach, Annie Lennox has managed to produce memorable songs that evoke despair without self-pity, and play up to her strengths well. Anyone who admires her for using music as a platform to raise awareness about important issues will love this, and here and there lyrical themes about poverty, religion and inequality do
pop up, even though the bulk of it is more to do with personal relationships and fists-clenched-to-the-chest soulful introspection. The little political/social commentary that is present is her personal stamp, but fortunately doesn’t detract from the music in any way. So it’s still perfectly possible for people who dislike pop stars trying to save the planet to enjoy this album. That's a good thing, because it's her best solo album yet.