Even though Annie Lennox is the voice behind some of the most memorable singles in pop music history, her output can be a bit spotty.
Her solo albums Medusa and Bare sometimes dragged under the weight of their aching themes, while Diva managed to garner accolades despite being stiff, cold and distant. She sounded far warmer on Eurythmics’ Savage, and that’s saying a lot.
So after a solo career spanning 15-plus years yielding only four albums, Lennox offers Songs of Mass Destruction, the most invigorating album she’s done since her days with Eurythmics.
Lennox has a definite comfort zone in slow-burning music, a tendency which pulled her albums down in the past. On Songs of Mass Destruction, she defies that urge with a set of up-tempo numbers. But don’t think she’s surrendered that aching beauty to spruce up the pace — she can still sing heartbreak with the best of them.
At the conclusion of "Love Is Blind", she asserts, "Tired of being beaten up/tired of being so screwed up". But instead of resignation, Lennox sings with resolve. "Smithereens" starts off quietly, but at the chorus, the song turns around, eventually building up to an emotive climax.
The middle point of the album finds Lennox flexing her soulful voice ("Ghost in the Machine", "Womankind") and dabbling in her trademark seething sound ("Through the Glass Darkly", "Lost".) Hey, it’s an Annie Lennox album — there’s got to be some introspection.
The album builds up again to "Sing", a charity song with a celebrity backing chorus of women singers too numerous to mention. "Big Sky" and "Fingernail Moon" wind the album down to its naturally quiet conclusion.
Songs of Mass Destruction finally brings together all the things which propel Lennox to the front of world-class singers. It has the most live sound she’s had on an album since Eurythmics’ 1985 album Be Yourself Tonight. It has material which lets her exploit a full range of expression, from blue-eyed soul to English restraint. And it showcases the most energetic performances she’s delivered in a long time.
Listeners who have missed Lennox’s more brash tendencies — an image she has all but erased with a delicate reclusiveness — will find Songs of Mass Destruction a welcome entry in her repertoire. The bold title may hint at a devastating listening experience, but instead, we get Lennox at her most candid.