When Sorrows Go Unheeded
Released on 9 November 1987, Savage once again finds Eurythmics experimenting with electronic textures, and although it sounds vastly different than the Sweet Dreams era it is just as eccentric. The album’s distinct sound is based on samples created by Stewart and filtered by Romö through the synclavier. Brilliantly demented and defiantly uncommercial, Savage is a jaded exploration of the extremes to which the human psyche can strain, and break.
Although esteem for Savage seems to have grown over the years, it was met mostly with bewilderment at the time of its release. In America, the album was essentially doomed from the start, as RCA seemingly had no idea what to do with it. They botched its launch by promoting “Beethoven” as the lead video on MTV and then inexplicably releasing “I Need a Man” as the first single, confusing consumers and radio programmers already unsure what to make of Eurythmics’ new sound. RCA had no idea where Eurythmics fit in the ever-changing US market, and they abjectly failed to figure it out. None of the singles reached the Top 40 in the US, and the album peaked at a shockingly low #41 (despite going Top 10 in the UK, Canada, and elsewhere). It was the first regular studio album by Eurythmics that sold fewer copies than its predecessor.
Of course, it must be noted that Stewart and Lennox weren’t exactly aiming for the top of the pop charts. Lead single “Beethoven (I Love to Listen To)”, a chilly piece of electronica with a wonderfully demented spoken-word vocal, is far more challenging than typical Top 40 fare. The video introduces the concept of a repressed woman at the end of her savagely frayed rope. The silicon chip inside her head gets switched to overload as the pressure from her many frustrations and anxieties finally detonates. This thematic concept is expanded in the accompanying video album directed by the great Sophie Muller comprising loosely connected clips for each song (and which, bizarrely, has never been released on DVD). The videos for Savage include some of Annie Lennox’s most commanding screen moments as she completely inhabits each aspect of her character’s heartbroken and soul-riven personas.
For the audacious showstopper “I Need a Man”, Lennox unleashes feverish soul fire, lashing out with an exaggerated Aretha-esque throat-shredding (partially inspired by Mick Jagger) as her character is consumed by feral sexual compulsion, the sating of which she thinks will make her whole or, perhaps more appropriately, give her satisfaction. The listener has no reason to believe that’s the case, which is surely the point as we glimpse an uncomfortable moment of debasement. Everybody, still, is looking for something, and sometimes the naked truth of our most primal and savage impulses ain’t pretty no matter how glamorously painted.
“You Have Placed a Chill in My Heart” is a frenetic recitation of the damage caused by love ripped apart. It churns from cynicism to vulnerability to surging defiance drawn from a secret reserve of inner strength. There’s nothing fake here, nothing pretend. Lennox is willing to cast off whatever protective sheath her heart may possess to articulate the profound devastation of heartbreak at its most brutal, but she is also able to reaffirm the unyielding steel at her center. Once again, she is able to express remarkable nuance and the human capacity for rapidly shifting emotions all within the span of one song. “Cause I’m much too tall / to feel that small / yeah!” Hells yeah, she is. She always has been.
Another single, “Shame”, heaps derision on lifestyles built on artifice that turns out to be fool’s gold lacking any emotional center. “Wild-Eyed Girl” is history repeating, our heroine watching a younger version of herself fall into the same snares she has endured. The heartbroken chanteuse of the devastating title track seems to sum up the album as a whole: “Everything is fiction / all cynic to the bone / so don’t ask me to stay with you / don’t ask to see me home / savage / savage / you savage.”
The ending, though, brings the possibility of hope, the light creeping through the darkness and peeking over the trees. On an album this dark and fractured some measure of relief for the finalé is most welcome, and “Brand New Day” is just the right tonic. The track is purely a cappella until the 1:38 point when sprightly keyboards cascade over the soulful vocal arrangement, heralding at least some degree of inner peace and optimism. Savage pierces the human heart and reflects the primitive within, the ugliness that we often pretend doesn’t exist, the perpetual need for something (anything!) to fill our souls, but also the fragile hope that sometimes, occasionally, blooms on the horizon.
After the difficult Savage period, Stewart and Lennox took a short break as Eurythmics while keeping busy in their personal lives, but it wasn’t long before the duo was back writing new songs. Eurythmics’ next album was released on 11 September 1989. The creation of We Too Are One was fraught with acrimony as by that time Stewart and Lennox’s personal relationship had deteriorated to the lowest point of their partnership. Their personal relationship had by this time deteriorated to its lowest point, and the creation of We Too Are One was fraught with acrimony, as by that time their personal relationship had deteriorated to the lowest point of their partnership.
It’s a testament to their talent, professionalism, and the level of care they have always taken with their music that Eurythmics were able to complete a sterling and immaculately crafted collection of songs despite the rancorous nature of the sessions. The title is ironic considering that they were never more divided, but it’s also a show of defiance. Eurythmics might struggle at times to make things work between them, but they have never presented to the public anything but a solidly united front regarding their work.
We Too Are One, their most polished and elaborately arranged studio album, was yet another major stylistic shift for Eurythmics. Their decision to collaborate with heavyweight producer Jimmy Iovine is certainly a big part of the reason We Too Are One is more attuned to a traditionally mainstream sound than anything else Eurythmics released. The album foreshadows the glossy nature of Lennox’s enormously successful solo work, which is consistently stellar but markedly less experimental than her output with Eurythmics.
The upbeat electronic/R&B hybrid “Revival”, boosted by a spirited guest spot by former Gap Band vocalist Charlie Wilson, was the album’s lead single in the UK and elsewhere. Despite becoming a modest hit and lending its name to the duo’s first tour since Revenge “Revival” has strangely been skipped over for inclusion on both of Eurythmics’ hits compilations to date.
In America, the choice was “Don’t Ask Me Why”, a brooding and palpably bitter rumination on the dissolution of a relationship (a frequent topic in Eurythmics’ repertoire). Nobody delivers icy scorn quite like Lennox, and her performance on “Don’t Ask Me Why” is crushing. Gorgeously constructed with an elegant shuffle groove and glistening guitar by Stewart, “Don’t Ask Me Why” was Eurythmics’ final appearance on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart in America, reaching #40. The fact that such a sublime recording, complete with a visually stunning Sophie Muller-directed video, generated such paltry mainstream attention is a damning indictment on the state of Top 40 radio in the US by the end of the ’80s (and it would only get worse with each passing year, all the way up through today).
Steeped in loss, the lofty ballad “Angel” contemplates the power of faith, the unwavering certainty that a loved one who has come to the journey’s end will follow the light on the water through which all souls pass. It served as the second single in the US, and the fourth in the UK, where it just missed the Top 20. Eight years later, Lennox recorded an inspirational new solo version of “Angel” for a tribute album released in the wake of Princess Diana’s death.
For the sharply satirical “King and Queen of America”, Eurythmics filmed an uproarious video lampooning various American-inspired caricatures. Nearly three decades later, it seems eerily prescient. Given current circumstances in the US, the explanation that Lennox provided for the liner notes to the album’s 2005 CD reissue is worth quoting: “A critical, cryptic, ironic and vicious stab at Western culture and the American Dream. The King and Queen are symbols of the American Dream, which is that everyone can be a winner. Well, no they can’t actually. There never has been a King and Queen of America but I suppose there are a million contenders.” Nothing more needs to be said, really.
The high-energy track was a single everywhere but America itself (no doubt the label thought Americans wouldn’t get the joke, and they were probably right). Instead, the US market got “(My My) Baby’s Gonna Cry”, an engaging mid-tempo rocker with the distinction of being the only Eurythmics track that could accurately be described as a duet between Stewart and Lennox. Not surprisingly, it was widely ignored by all but the hardcore fanbase. Two key album tracks should be mentioned: the baleful “You Hurt Me (and I Hate You)”, on which Lennox smolders with pure fury in a stupendous vocal performance, and the album’s transcendent finalé, “When the Day Goes Down”, a six-minute stunner that for a long time seemed like it would be Eurythmics’ final musical statement.
Although Eurythmics landed their second #1 album in Britain with We Too Are One, after wrapping up their tour it was clear they needed a break. It turned out to be a very long one. They never officially disbanded, but both Lennox and Stewart spent the next decade mostly consumed with their busy solo careers and personal lives. At the end of the ’90s, they converged rather by accident and quickly found the old musical magic rekindling. The result of that fortuitous reunion is Peace, released on 18 October 1999, and (at least thus far) Eurythmics’ final studio album.
A solid pop/rock collection with one strong melody after another, Peace launched a major tour, which later became a DVD. Eurythmics donated all proceeds to Greenpeace and Amnesty International. The soaring “17 Again”, wistful with nostalgia about the duo’s early years and including a few lines from “Sweet Dreams (are made of this)” in its coda, is a fond and touching reflection about some of the experiences Stewart and Lennox shared as Eurythmics. The elegant, socially conscious ballad “I Saved the World Today” reached #11 on the UK singles chart, their highest placement since “Thorn in My Side” hit #5 13 years earlier.
The album’s centerpiece, “Peace Is Just a Word”, was chosen as the third and final single. Yearning with sorrow, Lennox laments the hopelessness that so many people face as they struggle to survive in a world wracked by violence and upheaval. Lennox’s vocal is empathetic and rich with regret that so many sorrows go unheeded, so many basic human needs unmet. Pop music is a medium in which the norm is for artists to focus on vague and uplifting promises of hope that, when one considers the true reality of the world in which we live, seem sadly naïve. “Peace Is Just a Word” doesn’t go that route, instead ending with an unambiguous admission that is profoundly somber: “Stop the world / just pack it in / well we’ve reached the point where no one ever wins / no one ever wins! / peace is just a word / it’s just a word”. As always, Eurythmics don’t flinch from the truth of the human condition.
The most recent studio recordings Eurythmics have released came in 2005 with two new singles included on their Ultimate Collection: “I’ve Got a Life” is a dynamic disco rave-up with a rousing vocal that updates Eurythmics’ electronic style into a new millennium, and “Was it Just Another Love Affair?” is an elegant ballad that would fit nicely on any of Lennox’s solo albums. New tracks recorded for hits compilations can sometimes be a dicey proposition, but as with most of what they did, Eurythmics provided their fans something special.
Lennox has enjoyed a remarkable solo career, with several acclaimed albums to her credit, including the breathtaking 1992 classic Diva. She’s released a series of brilliant solo singles including “Why”, “Walking on Broken Glass”, “No More ‘I Love You’s”, “Pavement Cracks”, “Dark Road”, and the exquisite “Love Song for a Vampire from Bram Stoker’s Dracula“. She performed the soaring ballad “Into the West”, from The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, at the 76th Academy Awards in February 2004, where it earned the prestigious prize for Best Original Song. Lennox has also devoted herself tirelessly to humanitarian causes, in particular focusing attention and directing relief efforts for the ongoing HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa.
Stewart has also flourished with his solo endeavors, as an in-demand songwriter, musician, and producer, as well as a recording artist with multiple terrific albums of his own. Stewart has worked on numerous TV and film soundtracks, one of which yielded the surprise smash instrumental “Lily Was Here” with Candy Dulfer. He has collaborated with many of the biggest names in rock, including the likes of Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, Tom Petty, Stevie Nicks, Daryl Hall, Ringo Starr, Bryan Ferry, Jon Bon Jovi, No Doubt, and many others. Stewart won a Golden Globe for Best Original Song from a Motion Picture for “Old Habits Die Hard”, his collaboration with Mick Jagger for the 2004 television comedy Alfie.
As accomplished as Lennox and Stewart have been outside of Eurythmics, their finest work remains their shared recorded legacy. Eurythmics has an edge that Lennox’s solo material, as superb as it is, simply lacks. Stewart has gelled wonderfully with other artists, but his most compelling, focused, and evocative work is with his true musical partner.
Their most recent appearance as Eurythmics was a stunning performance of “The Fool on the Hill” on 9 February 2014 for The Beatles: The Night That Changed America – A Grammy Salute, a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ famous appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. The star-studded crowd’s rapturous acknowledgment of Eurythmics, including Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr watching with obvious approval, was a delight to behold. The slack-jawed amazement that Lennox generated with her 2015 Grammy performance of “I Put a Spell on You” was gratifying, yet somewhat amusing for those who have been following them since the early days. Sure, Lennox delivered a knockout performance, but that’s exactly what she’s been doing consistently for nearly four decades. If more people are waking up to it, then that can only be a good thing.
Induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame may require a change in how voters perceive Eurythmics — they’re not just about hits like “Sweet Dreams”, “Here Comes the Rain Again” and “Would I Lie to You?” From In the Garden through Peace, Eurythmics have presented an eclectic and consistently fascinating body of work that accomplishes what they set out to do: experiment and expand the possibilities of pop music. Eurythmics’ catalog is fearless, unconventional, emotionally stirring, and exquisitely crafted. Stewart and Lennox are both gifted songwriters, producers, and musicians, and Lennox is a vocalist of stunning versatility and power. There’s a theatricality to Eurythmics’ work, a boldness that challenges listeners to leave behind their expectations and open their minds to endless possibilities.
It’s hard to fathom in this age of ubiquitous deluxe reissues why Eurythmics’ catalog has been so sadly neglected. A refurbishment is much needed, and perhaps this nomination will be the spark that finally makes it happen. Fans who have followed and supported the duo for decades deserve to have their faith in the music acknowledged. When the music is not treated with adequate reverence and respect, it’s a de facto dismissal of the fans who adore it.
In spite of the format’s well-documented resurgence, there have been no Eurythmics vinyl reissues. A series of CD reissues appeared in 2005, but they are woefully insufficient, with only a handful of bonus tracks appended to the end of each. The additional material is haphazard and missing key b-sides (“Rich Girl”, “Invisible Hands” and “Step on the Beast”, for example), assorted rarities from throughout their career, and many important 12″ mixes (the absence of extended versions for “Who’s That Girl?”, “Right By Your Side” and “You Have Placed a Chill In My Heart”, to name just three, are particularly inexplicable). Each album deserves at least a two-CD set containing all of the associated material that was released at the time, along with previously unreleased archival recordings.
And who knows… perhaps new music could be on the horizon. Eurythmics have never officially broken up, and Stewart said in a recent interview that he thought it likely that he and Lennox would work together again. Stewart indicates in his book released early last year, Sweet Dreams are Made of This: A Life in Music that they remain best friends. He recently posted a teaser clip of Lennox playing piano with recording equipment set up on his Instagram page with the caption, “Just like old times,” and they have been holding joint interviews about their Hall of Fame nomination. When these two talents get together, magic tends to happen… we can only hope.
Eurythmics have sold tens of millions of albums worldwide and scored numerous international hits, including some of the benchmark recordings of the ’80s like “Here Comes the Rain Again”, “Would I Lie To You?”, “Missionary Man” and of course “Sweet Dreams (are made of this)”. Few artists combine sound and vision as adroitly as Eurythmics, and their profoundly influential body of work stands the test of time. Eurythmics’ nomination to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is to be celebrated, but it’s not enough. Hall of Fame voters should make sweet dreams into reality and enshrine Eurythmics alongside the very finest artists in rock history, which is exactly where they belong.
This article was originally published on 20 November 2017. It has been reformatted and re-edited.