The Ultimate Collection
he prefix “pseudo” described Eurythmics so well that it became safe for other bands to use it 10 years after Bowie first made it respectable. The problem is, no one did. Fifteen years after breaking up the first time—after which singer Annie Lennox began a rather successful solo career and singer/guitarist David Stewart refused to shed the paisley vest and cowboy boots he’d bought at a Jeff Lynne rummage sale (thankfully he cut the perm)—the English duo’s achievement remains considerable, and neglected. Stewart and Lennox approached pop music like the dilettantes they were and created songs like the masters they wanted to be, without ever losing the distance from the genres they were exploiting, which to most English bands is as crucial as bad teeth (although Lennox’s are better than mine). Still, it’s a damn shame most English bands read only one volume of the pop encyclopedia.
Eurythmics always had impeccable timing. The success of Tears for Fears (whose music swelled as the incorporation of big drums and guitar solos purged their flirtation with miserabilist nonsense) notwithstanding, American radio got bored of synth-pop duos in 1985 (“West End Girls” would rekindle interest a year later). Stewart and Lennox, canny observers of the marketplace, replaced their keyboards with the soul horns which lent that year’s Be Yourself Tonight a beefiness absent from the determined chill of their earlier albums: a chill which was itself a distillation of Kraftwerk and Gary Numan’s austerity, with whom so many of their generation were besotted. Luckily, Eurythmics had in Lennox a singer whose plummy diction and expressive range signified soul rather than projected it, so that any genre flirtation advanced to a marriage of the secondhand in which sex was suggested but never performed.
The Ultimate Collection gets it right: all the hits (with the unforgivable exception of “Sexcrime ,” never collected in the U.S.), perhaps too many. First, the synth ditties “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of These)” and “Who’s That Girl,” none of which are favorites; Lennox may have had a “better voice” than Boy George or Alison Moyet, but they could flirt in character, not merely pose in Thin White Duke-ish hauteur. Then, as Stewart hung out with clients Tom Petty and Bob Dylan and his hair lengthened, the act loosened up. The charming stiff-jointed calypso of “Right By Your Side” gave way to “Would I Lie To You?” a song which manages to update and vulgarize Motown in all the best ways: that guitar! those horns! Annie, get down from that catwalk!
Since Be Yourself Tonight remains the duo’s masterwork, Ultimate rightly collects its four singles, including the minor hit “It’s Alright (Baby’s Coming Back),” Lennox’s best Aretha manqué, an ace move after failing to challenge her on “Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves.” But as the hits began to disappear the marketplace accommodations got tacky. The Glass Tiger arena moves of Revenge are put to good effect on “Missionary Man,” but “Thorn In My Side” is goop of the kind Lennox would reproduce solo. The underrated Savage donates “I Need A Man” and “You Have Placed A Chill In My Heart”—both comprising one film, with Lennox playing Joan Crawford in one half and Joan Fontaine in the other.
It’s when she started believing that she was the victimized Fontaine of Suspicion that Lennox lost my sympathy. Diva-hood, and the love of the Celine Dion claque, awaited. Ultimate has the nerve to include two songs from 1999’s Peace, but, honestly, Lennox solo had become more adept at performing these nods towards class and glamour. The two new songs are redundancies. Consider this: “Was It Just Another Love Affair?” isn’t just rhetorical flash; it’s a repudiation of the febrile Lennox-Stewart partnership. Or acknowledgment. In the old days, they would have wanted it both ways.