Friday, 13 November 2020

EURYTHMICS: Greatest Hits


(#427: 30 March 1991, 9 weeks; 22 June 1991, 1 week)


Track listing: Love Is A Stranger/Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)/Who’s That Girl?/Right By Your Side/Here Comes The Rain Again/There Must Be An Angel (Playing With My Heart)/Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves/It’s Alright (Baby’s Coming Back)/When Tomorrow Comes/You Have Placed A Chill In My Heart/The Miracle Of Love/Sex Crime (1984)/Thorn In My Side/Don’t Ask Me Why/Angel/Would I Lie To You?/Missionary Man/I Need A Man


I suppose it’s the old story, the one we know from Fleetwood Mac and ABBA; the tragicomic soap opera stylings of professional musicians who were once together but now work alongside each other with some mutual suspicion and bitterness. The “now” is only theoretical as Eurythmics had ceased to exist – or had been put on a long-term sabbatical – by the time this compilation came out.


Greatest Hits was the most commercially successful album that Eurythmics ever put out, selling almost two million copies in Britain and going triple platinum in the States. Were people already that nostalgic for the eighties, or was it the case, as Queen had demonstrated a decade previously, that pulling together a few really big hits with several not-quite-as-big hits provided a revelatory and perhaps comforting picture to the sort of consumer who likes to have “everything” in one place?


Listening to these eighteen songs, divorced from the inadvertently hectoring role that they play on oldies radio, is scarcely comforting or reassuring. Even by the time of their first album as Eurythmics, Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart had already finished as a couple, and the consequent residual tension is difficult to avoid in their music, as is the suspicion that they were always modified seventies art-rockers who dabbled with pop but never fully committed themselves to its necessary abandon.


The early hits are adjacent to New Pop, rather than being the thing itself, but “Stranger” and “Dreams” are relatively smart and “Stranger” in particular bears a serene (even if vaguely Jean-Michel Jarre-ish) glide. Lennox (again especially on “Stranger”) sounds ready to burst into free jazz at the merest prompting (she was, in the mid-seventies, briefly involved with the agitprop improv unit Redbrass). With Touch, about which I have already written, the tension mutates into hairbrushed irritation and its three hits included here do little to reassure or even usefully provoke, especially the “happy” one. Which is why “Sex Crime,” slotted in here almost as an afterthought, felt so damned refreshing at the time; despite its subject nature, Lennox and Stewart sound as though they are having fun for once, and it was clearly a great laugh losing themselves in the gleeful arcade game of mid-eighties electropop (indeed the parent movie soundtrack album, 1984 [For The Love Of Big Brother], recorded to order in about a month, remains one of their best and most consistent records). It's the second most entertaining song on this collection.


Then the pressure came to sell big in the States, hence the headachy, compressed, treble-heavy bar band rock of the next two albums. To its credit, “Sisters” did become an important feminist “anthem” – one has to remember that, at least in Britain, Eurythmics records were largely purchased by, and intended for, women – and essentially brought Aretha back in from the cold. Likewise, “There Must Be An Angel” is an artful pop creation, if you can avoid Lennox’s intensely irksome vocal styling mood swings from Elizabeth Fraser to Zoe Ball (it should be added here that appreciation of the band’s music is greatly enlivened by not watching the accompanying and sorely overrated videos).


However, Be Yourself Tonight did big business, mainly on account of the custom of people who didn’t care about such chimerical notions as “New Pop,” and Revenge, more or less recorded as a contractual obligation, was more of the same. Oddly, their ballads seem to have weathered far better than the jolly frolics knees-up or pub rock tunes; “It’s Alright,” “When Tomorrow Comes” and “The Miracle Of Love” all attest to Lennox discovering that she actually cares and worries about people; hers are tremendous and characteristically northern Scottish interpretations – the only comparable Scottish singer of the period who comes to mind is Billy MacKenzie (the two did work together once, on the song “The Best Of You,” which had been intended for the Associates’ Perhaps album, but RCA, suspicious of a post-fame cash-in, refused to sanction its release, and the song had to be re-recorded with future RCA recording artist Eddi Reader. Lennox cherished MacKenzie but was frustrated by his cheerful indiscipline). These songs are all lullabies of commitment and protection, but are not free of doubt or dread. Once you get past the ghastly eighties saxophone, “Thorn In My Side” is a fairly savage song of contempt.


By 1989, Lennox and Stewart frostily hated each other, and We Too Are One, about which Lena has written fully, stretched the tension wire to breaking point. The bleak “Don’t Ask Me Why” might serve as a requiem for the once-promising eighties, whereas “Angel,” with its Presley references, would not have ill-become the Manic Street Preachers.


That just leaves their 1987 masterpiece, Savage, the one where they could finally say fuck you The Man and do whatever the hell they wanted. “Chill” is chilly and the closest they ever came to New Pop, with its subject matter of love as a saleable commodity. But few greatest hits compilations end as triumphantly or entertainingly as “I Need A Man,” the duo’s hilarious and absolutely nailed putdown of the Stones, and Jagger in particular. As the song gleefully fades into hurricanes of feedback and dislocated pedals, and with Alan Moulder engineering (and former Eurythmics bassist Dean Garcia in tow), we view Curve heading towards us in the distance.


And it is not unreasonable to earmark Eurythmics as an important influence on the succeeding generation of major music-makers; if you need a monument to the work of Annie and Dave, there is one everywhere.