Forget about sweet dreams. Annie Lennox is singing about dark and ominous things on her new CD, “Songs of Mass Destruction.” With that magnificently powerful voice, she roars about war, poverty and slitting her wrists.
Has life for one of England’s great pop divas really become that depressing?
Songs of Mass Destruction
(Arista; US: 2 Oct 2007; UK: 1 Oct 2007)
“I’m not exactly the cheeriest of people,” the Grammy- and Oscar-winning star said in a recent interview from London. “I suppose (the album) reflects my response to a world that I think is completely mad, in every respect - whether you come to ecology and the abuses of our natural, limited resources, or we’re talking about warfare, or talking about the kind of pandemics we face, or the chronic and endemic poverty.
“There is a sense of despair, definitely, and it’s one that I think people will really identify with. And people are looking for substance because most of the time in the Western culture, it’s light entertainment - very escapist or superficial.”
Whew! What did you expect from the deep-thinking, Royal Academy of Music-educated diva whose last solo CD, 2003’s “Bare,” a meditation on divorce, featured “The Hurting Time” and “The Saddest Song I’ve Got.” She is in touch with her feelings.
Lennox’s solo tour promises a repertoire that embraces her career - from 1980s Eurythmics hits to favorites from “Diva,” her 1992 solo debut album, and her three subsequent solo discs. She has lofty goals for her concert.
“I want people to leave the theater feeling transformed and somewhat elevated,” she said. “I want the audience to have an emotional and provocative experience.”
To do that, Lennox will include heavy numbers from “Songs of Mass Destruction.” She thinks singing them - including the suicidal blues-rock stomp “Love Is Blind” - helps purge the pain.
“Everyone feels that way from time to time,” the 52-year-old singer said of suicide. “It’s not that I live there permanently. But I touch on it, that feeling of absolute pointlessness.
“When a person sings the blues, it serves a purpose like a kind of exorcism. Through the purging or expression of this darkness comes a whole other kind of heightened, transcendent sense.”
Lennox points out that on “Mass Destruction” there is light that balances the darkness. It comes in the music, which ranges from ballads (the Elton John-like “Smithereens”) to driving rockers (“Ghost in My Machine”) to soulful dance-floor workouts (“Coloured Bedspread,” which evokes the Eurythmics). The dark beauty of the sounds, she said, provides `moments of shining and glowing and light - or hopefulness.”
The album’s centerpiece is an uplifting anthem called “Sing,” inspired by Lennox’s many trips to South Africa, where she witnessed the AIDS pandemic firsthand. She can recite statistics off the top of her head: One in three pregnant women there is thought to be HIV positive. If the woman doesn’t get treatment, she will die, and the child could easily die by its fifth birthday.
To spread the message, she wrote “Sing,” and invited 23 female stars to sing on it - Joss Stone, Faith Hill, k.d. lang, Pink, Gladys Knight, Shakira, Fergie, Bonnie Raitt, Celine Dion, Beth Orton, among others.
“I wrote them all a letter with a mission statement and, `Could you please sing on the chorus and do some ad libs, whatever you feel comfortable,” said Lennox, who worked for the first time with producer Glen Ballard, best known for his work with Alanis Morissette. “Then I got Madonna singing the second verse on the song. I thought, This is fabulous. I can put this on everybody’s website and inform people and move them and hopefully get them involved in the issue.”
The daughter of trade-union socialists in Scotland, Lennox is encouraging her two teen daughters to get socially involved in such organizations as Greenpeace and Amnesty International.
Although she said she’s motivated by her “sense of outrage at the injustice of things,” Lennox doesn’t always sound like Bono’s activist sister. Throw her a softball question and she steps down from her soapbox.
How did it feel when VH1, in ranking the “100 Greatest Women in Rock,” called her `the greatest living white soul singer’?
“That’s a great compliment. Definitely. How lovely,” she said with a cheerful Scottish burr. “I’m very privileged that someone even thinks that I’m any good.”