From this point forward, nearly all of Eurythmics’ singles performed better in the UK and elsewhere around the world than in the US. The same was true for many artists who emerged from the new wave era and the early years of MTV. Part of the reason is that starting in 1986 and progressing through the end of the decade and into the ’90s, dance/pop and R&B started to dominate the Top 40 airwaves. The situation for Eurythmics was exacerbated by the departure of their most enthusiastic patron at RCA. After the change in leadership at the label, Eurythmics became a lower priority for RCA in America, and they’d manage only one more Top 20 appearance stateside despite maintaining a steady stream of hits globally from their next three albums.
Following the success of Be Yourself Tonight, Eurythmics continued to reinvent themselves, typically with spectacular results. Revenge, released on 30 June 1986, is a hard-edged rock album designed to provide material for the band to play its biggest shows yet. It succeeded beyond all expectations, eventually becoming Eurythmics’ top-selling album worldwide, and launching the most successful tour of their career. Revenge shows that Eurythmics can rock ‘n’ roll with the best of them on the big stage, and it never for one instant feels less than genuine. Lennox and Stewart were fully invested in everything they did, and that reverence for their own work is apparent in music that remains vital and fresh all these years later.
Revenge was partially recorded at the familiar confines of Conny Plank’s studio in Germany, where In the Garden had been created just as they were tentatively emerging from the Tourists. What a difference five years makes. Eurythmics were now global stars, and their confidence and clear artistic vision made for a very different result than their somewhat nebulous debut. Revenge wasn’t named by accident. It had been a long, arduous road for Eurythmics to get to this point, and they came into the proceedings with a chip on their shoulders that’s reflected in the brash edginess of the new material.
“Missionary Man” is a behemoth of an opener, badass and seething with aggression. Joneice Jamison’s knockout vocal adds another dimension, much like Merry Clayton did for the Stones on “Gimme Shelter”. “Missionary Man” is Eurythmics at their most potent and ferocious, with whip-sharp lyrics and a daring video featuring Lennox decked out in leather, bleached blonde hair, and projecting the demeanor of a dominatrix from Hell. The single was their final Top 20 appearance on the US pop chart and their only #1 on the US mainstream rock chart. It also landed them a Grammy for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group.
While “Missionary Man” spearheaded the album in America, Britain and the rest of the world got the richly melodic guitar-pop gem “When Tomorrow Comes”. Lennox gets plenty of praise for her vocal and performance abilities, but she’s underrated as a songwriter. “When Tomorrow Comes” contains some of her loveliest lyrics: “Last night while you were lying in my arms / and I was wondering where you were / you know, you looked just like a baby / fast asleep in this dangerous world / every star was shining brightly / just like a million years before / and we were feeling very small underneath the universe.”
The second single “Thorn in My Side” is a bitter rejoinder, a blunt rebuke to a no-good cheater set to an old-school rock ‘n’ roll vibe. The sax comes courtesy of Jimmy “Z” Zavala, a first-rate pro who’s worked with artists as diverse as Rod Stewart, Dr. Dre, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Yes, Etta James, and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony (he also provides the wicked harmonica licks on “Missionary Man”). Blondie drummer Clem Burke is rock-steady throughout, playing on all ten of the album’s tracks.
Revenge also yielded “The Miracle of Love”, an achingly gorgeous and uplifting tonic for Eurythmics’ often acerbic and cynical observations on love and humanity. During the 1986 holiday season, the ballad became yet another worldwide hit for the duo. Despite this, RCA didn’t even bother to release the single in America, having essentially abandoned the album after “Thorn in My Side” failed to reach the US Top 40 despite going Top 5 in the UK.
Even after the immense worldwide trek in support of Revenge, Eurythmics kept moving forward with barely a moment to pause for breath. Stewart had purchased a large and unwieldy synclavier from Buffy Saint-Marie, the wife of famed producer and songwriter Jack Nitzsche. Clueless as to how to program it, Stewart called on his trusted accomplice Olle Romö and they set up to record at a château in the French countryside.
Lennox stayed in Paris while working separately on the lyrics and vocals, a departure from the duo’s usual songwriting approach. The singer was initially apprehensive about the musical creations Stewart offered, but she again drew from her personal life and suddenly the album began taking shape. Lennox was in the midst of a particularly dark period in her personal life, and when inspiration finally struck, her songwriting sharply reflects this turmoil. Rock history is littered with examples of powerful work arising from personal struggle and tumult, and the album that emerged from these tense sessions certainly fits that definition. Savage is arguably the finest album of Eurythmics’ career.