MUSIC

Melancholy baby

Annie Lennox sings of loss and rebirth

Brian D. Johnson May 11 1992
MUSIC

Melancholy baby

Annie Lennox sings of loss and rebirth

Brian D. Johnson May 11 1992

Melancholy baby

MUSIC

Annie Lennox sings of loss and rebirth

Her features looking long and sad, Annie Lennox sits before a mirror and trails a makeup brush across her eyebrows. She sweeps it slowly around her face in a disconsolate caress, flirting with narcissism. Then she gets serious, painting on mascara and coral eyeshadow in generous strokes. Soon, Lennox is transformed into a parody of a sullenly seductive show girl, wearing black gloves, whorled jewelry and a towering red headdress of feathered boas. A

diva on a divan, she gazes into the camera, her face immobile, while the sound track plays a lovely, aching lament. The scene is the video for Why, the first single from Diva, Lennox’s arresting new solo album. The record marks a remarkable rebirth after the dissolution of her highly successful band, Eurythmies. Rich with melancholy and redemption, Diva is the most intimate work of Lennox’s career. And although it lacks the rock ’n’ roll punch of Eurythmies, it

is already the number 1 album in England.

After a spell of semi-retirement, in which she gave birth to daughter Lola, now 16 months old, Lennox is making herself famous again—but with a distinct ambivalence. The songs on Diva, and on the 30-minute video released along with the album, are riddled with ironic reflections on the counterfeit quality of stardom. And during a Maclean ’s interview in Toronto last week, the 37-year-old singer expressed reservations about stepping back into the spotlight. “I’m not the ambitious blonde,” she said, speaking in the soft Aberdeen brogue of her Scottish birthplace. “Maybe that’s my dilemma with this whole affair. I don’t want to live the predictable route of the star. And I sit rather uncomfortably with it, quite frankly.”

Lennox was severely dressed in a pin-striped suit, “a power suit,” as she laughingly described it. Her short, dark hair was slicked back. A wide mouth and wide blue-grey eyes give her narrow face unusual proportions. Slim, angular and dapper, she is like a full-lipped, female David Bowie. In fact, Lennox and Bowie performed a scorching duet onstage together in London last month at the AIDS benefit concert in memory of Freddie Mercury, of the band Queen.

And, like Bowie, Lennox has established herself as a chameleon pop star, bending images of gender and bringing theatrical sophistication to the art of the I pop-music video. In 1984, she appeared at the Grammy awards dressed in Elvis Presley drag, I complete with sideburns, to sing 1 her first big hit, Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This). Since then, she has subverted stereotypes at every turn, acquiring and shedding styles, from the spiky blonde in black leather who snarled Missionary Man (1986) to the sad-eyed carnival queen who masks and unmasks emotions in the new Diva video. “I push the limits,” said Lennox. “I don’t think I should be limited to wearing the current fashion or trend as an entertainer.”

But unlike some of her image-obsessed peers, notably Madonna, Lennox is above all an exceptional singer. Her voice is a serene in-

strument of white soul—bold, sensual and free-spirited, with a clear ring of intelligence. Against the hard pulse of Eurythmies, however, her singing often seemed armored with stainless-steel rage. On Diva, Lennox strips away the anger and finds shivering depths of emotion. “I don’t think you know what I feel,” she sings in Why, repeating the line with heartbreaking passion.

The only child of an Aberdeen shipyard worker and his wife, Lennox now lives in London with her daughter and her second husband, documentary film-maker Uri Fruchtman, whom she married in 1988. But her most formative relationship was with musician Dave Stewart, whom she met in the late 1970s after

abandoning studies at the Royal Academy of Music. After a four-year romance, they settled into a productive collaboration with Eurythmies that produced eight albums.

Their partnership finally wore itself out, Lennox told Maclean’s. “It’s just that we had been together for such a long time,” she said. “It became hard for us to be in the same room together. We left at the right moment. It wasn’t even discussed. We finished off the tour that we did for We Two Are One [1989], and I went home. There was no plan, and no plan to have plans. Suddenly I had a big white space in front of me. I could do anything.”

She says that she considered giving up music altogether. “But when I was pregnant, I had a lot of time to fill,” she recalled. “And I just discovered that there was this itch, because I wasn’t writing. I thought perhaps this is what I’m supposed to do. I don’t know why—why one sings, why one does anything.”

She recorded her new album over a 15month period with British producer Stephen Lipson. “I didn’t have a band,” explained Lennox, “so I worked in this very solitary fashion. When I’m sitting at a piano, writing without a rhythm behind me, it tends to fall into that more introverted, melancholic mood.” She added: “I’m a melancholic person. I carry a lot of it with me wherever I go.” But Lennox calls

Diva “less embittered” than her previous work. “Perhaps it’s more feminine. Perhaps this experience of having children puts us back to a place where green shoots can emerge.” The songs on Diva revolve around themes of separation, loneliness and rebirth. The bright, jangly rhythm of Walking on Broken Glass, one of the album’s few up-tempo numbers, is undercut by lines about “living in an empty room/ With all the windows smashed.” Precious, which swings on a bass-driven bayou beat, slams the door on a “cynical and twisted” past to embrace the miracle of a child—“Precious little angel/Tell me how can it be true/That such a gift from heaven/Has been sent for me and you.” In Cold, a shimmering ballad, she

offers the confession, “Dying is easy it’s living that scares me to death.”

Meanwhile, the seven-song Diva video, directed by Lennox’s closest friend, Sophie Muller, unfolds like a tragicomic masquerade in the canals, squares and mirrored halls of Venice. For Legend in My Living Room, Lennox wears top hat and tails, and stamps out the rhythm with a cane. For Money Can’t Buy It, she wears a red gown and white-towel turban and sings cheek-to-cheek with her mirror image, her gaze slyly shifting between the camera and herself. And for The Gift (“Take this gilded cage of pain and set me free”), she wears her diva headdress and stands like a statue with arms outspread in St. Mark’s square while tourists pose nearby for snapshots.

It is her sardonic comment on fame. Stardom, she told Maclean ’s, “is a worthless thing, really. Maybe after I finish my very last record, I will go and do a thesis on it—because I’ve lived it.” She added: “Is that David Bowie who wrote in one of his songs, ‘I stumbled into town just like some sacred cow?’ Well, I’m this odd sort of sacred cow. It’s very difficult for people I meet to see me as”—she dropped her voice an octave and cracked a conspiratorial smile— “hey, just a regular guy.”

BRIAN D. JOHNSON