Thursday, 27 August 2015

EURYTHMICS: We Too Are One



(#395:  23 September 1989, 1 week)

Track listing:  We Two Are One/The King And Queen Of America/(My My) Baby's Gonna Cry/Don't Ask Me Why/Angel/Revival/You Hurt Me (And I Hate You)/Sylvia/How Long?/When The Day Goes Down



"The door closed and I just waved good-bye, and when I began descending, I was shaking a bit - but the backseat drifter was gone.  I was released from the obsession, and before I'd reached the lobby I couldn't believe what a brain-dead glutton I'd been - for sex, for humiliation, for pseudodrama...And I planned right there never to repeat this sort of experience ever again.  The only way you can deal with the Tobiases of this world is not to let them into your lives at all. Blind yourself to their wares.  God, I felt relieved; not the least bit angry." Douglas Coupland, Generation X


There comes a time in any band's life when it should (or has to) come to an end; some bands have that end dictated to them, others just wear themselves out or go on a "hiatus" which turns out to be permanent.  Eurythmics, though, had to record this album before they split up for their own good - Dave and Annie weren't getting along anymore, and this disunion, if I can put it that way, is the subject of the album; Eurythmics being, if anything, a band that is definitely in control of itself.

That control was especially evident in their previous album, Savage, which makes a very handy guide/prequel to We Too Are OneSavage was the Eurythmics cutting loose after making the please-the-record-label Revenge,  and it includes the delirious, mocking "Beethoven (I Love To Listen To)," "Shame" (wherein Lennox looks at her generation and its gullibility towards the media and glamour), "You Have Placed A Chill In My Heart" (love as a commodity as opposed to love as something warm and free).  It's core, though, is "I Need You", where Lennox sings alongside Dave's acoustic guitar to a room full of happy cocktail hour people who aren't understanding anything she is saying.  It is one of those unexpected New Pop moments that takes the band and the audience and shows just what a gap there is, a kind of silence; or even makes it seem as if no one is listening at all and that she is singing to herself, more or less...

...and then there's "I Need A Man," where Lennox does a better Mick Jagger than Jagger himself, and her "Huh!" at the end shows her contempt for the whole rock rigmarole. 

How appropriate, then, that We Too Are One beat Steel Wheels to the top of the UK album chart, as Lennox and Stewart's dead-eyed stare at the camera was virtually saying, well here we are one more time, separate yet apart, not sarcastic or sharp like last time, but calm, with that cleansing sense that things are over, they are done, with nothing else needed to happen.

It starts with a steady, heavy backbeat and some wahh-woohs that sound half-human, half-mechanical - I thought it was going to be a first-song freakout, going back to Lennox's Redbrass days, but instead it is the first of many heavily ironic songs that says exactly what it doesn't mean.  "We Two Are One"?  Hmm, maybe.  It is, in fact, "Uncle" Charlie Wilson making noises as if he was playing a harmonica - yes, Wilson from The Gap Band!  The song is a vow of love, of fidelity - "We're gonna live forever."  In this upbeat song (which has Wilson also singing in the background), nothing is bad, though the fact that they can't be separate is because they are too "messed up" to live otherwise.  This is an album that may sound confident and big on the surface, but look underneath....

...and here are "The King And Queen Of America" who don't exist, who can't exist, but have such self-belief that they think they do.  "We're the all-time winners in the all-time loser's game" - another big brassy song steams along.  "The king of nothing and the queen of rage" is what they really are, on their "glittering stage" - is this the Eurythmics themselves?  Or just any couple who aim big but get little, really, in return?  What it boils down to is a near parody of David Bowie's Let's Dance, showing up that shiny emptiness for what it is, and of course the king and queen here end up going into outer space, the normal Earth having nothing good enough for them....

"(My My) Baby's Gonna Cry" is the first key song here - an anti-"I Got You Babe" that trundles along with David and Annie singing to each other, with Jimmy Iovine as the ref (he was brought in to settle any and all disputes, and I'm guessing there were a lot). Yes, we hear them both, flat and done, with no relish, because this is real.  The guitar break has fake audience applause in it, as if to say - yes, you the audience, you too are involved in this, applauding our misery up here, go ahead, we're beyond irony now.  The line between a song being a song and a song being something happening right in front of you, as you listen, is very narrow here, though the punctum has yet to fully appear...

"Don't Ask Me Why" is in the traditional Eurythmics style, with plucked strings and a delicate, but harsh line from Lennox.  "I don't love you anymore, I don't think I ever did" is a  painful thing to admit.  A lot of pretenses are being dropped, and the efforts of a whole decade are coming up as empty, with nothing good in the distance.  The 80s have been, from this perspective, a letdown, and a lot of soul-searching is the answer, but in the hubbub, the rush to the end, is self-knowledge even possible?

"Angel" is ostensibly about the death of Lennox's aunt, but hearing this at the time - those "57 winters" jumped out at me  - my own father dying at 58, in the winter.  Did I think of my father as an angel flying over me?  No, most certainly not.  The first verse is longing and plaintive and lovely, but then come these lines - "She took her life in her hands...no one can tell her what to do now."  Did she die naturally, or not?  I don't know, and don't want to presume, but this song too has a way of sounding utterly normal Magic-104.5-friendly and yet barbed, as if this angel is faulty, protective but fragile, too.  I don't doubt Lennox's sincerity here, and it would inevitably be the song Lennox would re-record for the 1997 tribute album to the late Princess Diana...this is a long way off "There Must Be An Angel (Playing With My Heart)."

"Revival" is a song that sounds as if it could be a way forward, telling others (themselves?) to get up, get out, get on with it - and Wilson is again here in the background.  It sounds more than a bit like "She Drives Me Crazy" but that's not a bad thing, right now.  "Living in a bad dream" is a phrase which jumps out, and the woman in the next verse - Mona Lisa to his Superman - is twisted, bitter, beaten-up.  To revive is to come back to life; and Lennox wants to do this, but there's wanting to do something and then doing it.  This song, as well-meaning as it sounds, doesn't have enough oomph to truly do the job; it's too pat, too easy.  Even Lennox doing her best to invoke James Brown at the end only makes me want to hear the actual James Brown - a man who needed some reviving himself at this time, if I'm right...

"You Hurt Me (And I Hate You)" starts with Lennox greeting the new day (as she did at the end of Savage) with the sun entering her room, the light spreading across her, as she slept "like a baby."  The song picks up, with Lennox at her fiercest, claiming "I'm not an angel, I'm not that quaint" (thus damning the previous angel?) and saying she doesn't need a preacher (bringing back her "Missionary Man" to diss again).  She has been the broken nail to his hammer, and her hate seems to be invading everything, her sureness in her being in the right and his being in the wrong is absolute.  "You put me down" she sings in the background, as she vows to make her scorn inescapable for him.  This is a bright and sprightly song, but again feels a little...cursory?  Everything here is still a bit guarded - this is like a therapy session of an album, inviting you in to hear things being said, but there is no resolution in sight.  Catharsis, cleansing - those are the aims, but instead a kind of terrible truce is being acted out here, before Lennox storms out, done and exhausted....  

"Sylvia" is a song I took to be about Plath at the time, and its eerie harmonies and pauses are near psychedelic - we are looking at a young woman, a woman who longs to be nothing - "the queen has lost her crown today."  "Passing through the underground" is something I knew, could feel.  Only in sleep can she "forget herself" but there she is in London, painted and ready to be adored, only to meet with "cold caresses" - this is Lennox herself, running to London from Aberdeen, and now alone, her partnerships over, missing, truly gone.  The anger of the previous song has turned into wanting to be gone, be forgotten, to be absent.  It is a stunning song, compassionate, sweet even, in its own way....

....and now, can there be a way out of the 80s?  Because it is going, and the Eurythmics with it...

"How Long?" looks out the window - it's 5 in the afternoon, the radio is on, the wind is casually shaking up the dust on the street...it is in the details that change, positive change (hello Soul II Soul) appear.  And the band sounds a little different here - more bass-heavy, with a kind of space that is narrow, but you know is going to widen.  A little curtain on the 90s appears...life in the "fancy town" is dull, boring as frozen food, bare, immoral.  "How long will your love hold on, stay strong enough?" is the question, against the rising winds and growing dusk.  We are in the very roots of Curve here - the doctor's dotted line, the pavement's cracks, the sense of something wrong having to be endured over, prevailed....

....and then...

The last song, "When The Day Goes Down."  It starts gently, with Lennox directly addressing her audience - telling them not to cry, telling them that "you're as good as all them, of this you can be sure."  But who are being addressed especially?  I don't think its herself, or Stewart, but the people who are to come.  "Don't think that you're the only one who's ever broke right down and cried" she says, giving those people her shoulder, her hand...

..."this is for the broken dreamers...the hopeless losers, the helpless fools...the burned-out and the useless...the lost and the degraded....the too dumb to speak."  These are not her peers she is talking to, not the yuppies, not even the strong-minded young women who have paid attention to the Eurythmics from the start.  No, this is the next generation, who have been on the wrong end of everything since they were born - who have witnessed terrible things, had terrible things done to them, and who have (as of yet) no real cultural voice of their own, no nickname even.  The day goes down on them too much; she is here to let them know that they are not alone (as so many of them feel and think) and that while she understands their misery, they cannot give up.  This is Generation X, the ones who don't fit in, just as Lennox says of herself - "I don't fit into any slot.  I am not really a rock and roller and I never really was a punk or a hippy..."  She is here as a misfit herself to acknowledge the others, to, at the very end, bring punctum.  Her hopeless obsessing over a dead relationship is gone, and her actual compassion and love are evident, and the long drum roll at the end brings even a kind of nobility. 

We too are one; the unity mocked at the start suddenly becomes real.  The night is coming, but it can be endured, because of this unity.  Thus ends the 80s from the Eurythmics' point of view - internally fractured, but not too self-obsessed to extend their empathy outwards, to encourage that positive change....

Up next:  two courageous generations.      

2 comments:

David Belbin said...

Great piece. Good on Savage too, best Eurythmics album. I even bought the VHS version!

Robin Carmody said...

The lyrics of "Shame" seem to me very symbolic of Scottish definitions of "Left", and how they did not change in the same way and to the same extent that English ones did. They're very much a reflection of a grounding that a Mancunian or Liverpudlian wouldn't quite have had - this was never strictly a "Labour areas vs. Tory areas" thing as some still think.