Be Yourself Tonight

Eurythmics

1985: RCA PCD1-5429


  1. Would I Lie to You?
  2. There Must Be an Angel (Playing with My Heart)
  3. I Love You like a Ball and Chain
  4. Sisters are Doin’ It for Themselves
  5. Conditioned Soul
  6. Adrian
  7. It’s Alright (Baby’s Coming Back)
  8. Here Comes That Sinking Feeling
  9. Better to Have Lost in Love (Than Never to Have Loved at All)
     
    Boxed Bonus Tracks:
  10. Grown Up Girls
  11. Tous les garçons et les filles
  12. Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves ET Mix
  13. Would I Lie to You? ET Mix
  14. Conditioned Soul Live
  15. Hello I Love You

“Would I Lie to You?” is just about as hot a track as I ever heard in the 1980s, and it still absolutely rocks my world when I listen to it. Next time you do, try it once on good headphones, once on powerful speakers, and once on cheap transistor-radio speakers (or a handheld device or laptop with no special audio qualities). You’ll get a different read from it each way, and you’ll never be able to decide which is best because they’re each capable of conveying a different style the recording contains.

On headphones you’ll hear the intense studio precision of Annie Lennox’s vocals and the subtle escalation of the horn section’s firepower…you are privy to the overall design of the song. On speakers you’ll feel the drive, the power, the attitude of the song’s content, with Lennox’s voice grabbing your collar and dragging you further along verse by verse. And on a cheap radio or other such minimal speakers you’ll hear a great hit that just won’t quit, with sharp guitar riffs and popping brass and that knifelike vocal; that’s the way I first heard it, and I was floored.

That is part of how Eurythmics would test their songs’ mixes, at least that’s what Lennox indicated in an early interview. Regardless of the playback method, each successive appearance of that wonderfully weirdly chorded “believe me!” cluster gets more obscured in the increasingly macho/sexy onslaught of horns and bass, but the first attack is striking and baffling and leaves you wanting to know what the hell is going on, so you listen closer each time even though it’s harder to hear each new time. And on top of all that, Lennox’s fanned-out vocal chord hugely ushering in the fourth (and strongest) chorus has the G-forces effect of a carnival ride shifting up a notch.

Of Lennox’s vocal arrangements in this track, Dave Stewart notes in his extremely entertaining book The Dave Stewart Songbook, Volume One, that “these harmonies are very unusual, and Annie is a genius at working them out very quickly in her head.” That is so true; I’ve taken several stabs at documenting just what notes are being sung in the phrase “believe me”—and they vary from one iteration to the next—and I’s still not completely certain I’ve nailed her crafting down. So it’s also always interesting to me to hear how others read that enigma in their cover versions posted on YouTube; very few get even close, but of course none match the hit-and-run power of the original recording. It’s notable that that Gordian Knot of a vocal arrangement only distracts from the harmonies Stewart was actually referring to, which are the “now would I say something that was’t true” ones— those, in their odd splitting, were indeed arrestingly unusual at the time (and in some ways still are, especially as they’s sustained into the next phrase), especially as delivered with Lennox’s vocal timbre, but personally I got so distracted by the vocal fist of the “believe me” punch that this previous legerdemain got relegated to a lesser status than it deserves.

Jeez that’s a lot of yammering about bits of a recording that most people will never even notice consciously! But, I’m telling you, that’s the craft that’s a hallmark of Eurythmics and why I became a fan.

The video for “Would I Lie to You” has a bunch of pluses and minuses to consider, the minuses being mostly its stagey nature (with fake backup singers and horn section in particular being a sore point for some of the actual players, according to one source) and the pluses being how smouldering Lennox is despite the generally constrained context. My favorite part of the video didn’t register as such until several years after I’d originally seen it, and that is where she does the British equivalent of the American “one-finger salute,” a moment that was captured in a video still to become one side of the LP’s inner-sleeve. A hilariously subtle touch.

This is a mighty, mighty recording from beginning to end, and I remain supercharged and dazzled by it to this day.

The whole album’s like that, but “Would I Lie to You?” is the strongest multiplatform performer of the bunch. Although I must add that in 1986 I heard them perform “Conditioned Soul” in concert and I was completely blown away—they turned it from the tense moody piece it was on the album into a powderkeg of emotions that barely held back its explosion throughout and didn’t disappoint in the end. That was a song I had no idea could be a rocker, but it really was a knockout; it’s a stealthy stunner on the album, to be sure, with a lovely structure that establishes one face of emotional outlook and then mirrors it back slightly warped (“through a glass darkly,” as it were), culminating in wounded/paranoid and slightly schizophrenic voices (both human and electric guitar) thrashing out their inner conflicts and demons before closing with one last tense attempt at achieving peace that still gets one last stab.

The rest of the album, well, I can’t rave THAT much for it all, but I could come close. It’s tight and strong throughout, with the exception of “Adrian” and the final track, both of which suffer from bombastic production overkill (so much so that worn-out ears are likely to miss the fact that the latter ends with a musical quotation of the “Sweet Dreams” riff…and is the “here it comes, here it comes again” bit of “Here Comes That Sinking Feeling” a reference back to “Here Comes the Rain Again”?).

The songs are all masterfully crafted, again with the exception of the final track (but “Adrian” makes the cut on this call, as it’s really quite lovely to sing along with). One thing that determines whether I consider rock songs “masterfully crafted” is their flexibility to translate into different contexts, a flexibility Eurythmics first demonstrated to me: does “I Love You Like a Ball and Chain” work as an acoustic R&B concert tune? Hell, yeah…they did it as recently as 1999’s Peacetour and it held up just fine. (My favorite extreme example of this is their Mississippi Delta blues rendition of “Missionary Man,” available on the Angel single.)

And then there’s the occasional lyrical twist, rarer here than on most Eurythmics albums. I mean, how often do you find a love song in which the singer soothingly promises to be their beloved’s “storm at seas”? Or the homophonic nuance of the line in “Adrian” that “the world is slowly dawning / to wake up to a new clear morning”—surely a gloss towards the nuclear brinksmanship of the Reagan/Thatcher era’s sabre-rattling.

I also enjoy the counterpoint elements utilized here and there, such as the brass arrangement at the end of “It’s Alright (Baby’s Coming Back)” where the vocal riff “make it easy on yourself tonight” gets a beefier punch. Just before that there’s another nice touch—the percussion track is cut right at what might be the climax, letting the chord pattern, vocals, and flourishes express the song’s inner voice more freely before the wrap-up.

“Here Comes That Sinking Feeling” has always struck me as being a toss-off track, included to fill out the album, not as strong an encapsulation as are nearly all other tracks on this albmu, but actually it fills the bill in its own way. Lyrically I suppose it’s Lennox trying to express how insiduous and wracking inherent depression is; that she gives voice to the effort to rail against it so intensely and wildly in the choruses is probably what resonates most with me…there’s no spineless wafting off into acceptance of vague dissatisfaction there! That it’s all astride a very aggressive rock track just heightens and accentuates the contrasts of vulnerability and wailed declamation. I suppose it could be described as a very Eurythmics track in that its a Dave Stewart production of an Annie Lennox expression; the expressive core is hers but the delivery method seems to be his (aside from the vocal, of course).

But then what do I know? This is all conjecture and impression. Although it’s worth noting that this is one of two songs from this album that also emerged in quite different mixes for different purposes, neither having been included in any other form so far than their original vinyl singles: the “premix” (as I refer to it) version of “Would I Lie to You?,” which includes none of the final singl’s mighty horns and keyboard work, and “Here Comes That Sinking Feeling” in a version marked mostly by significantly changed balances/treatments of vocals. The latter is very telling, however, in that it also gives us a glimpse into the internal debate as to what exactly constituted and expressed Eurythmics as a “sound”…just where that tipping point is between electronica and soul, as it were. The B-side single version of this track has more of a mix of the two, whereas the album version largely relegates electronica to the keyboard solo of the bridge plus some audio treatment to distort vocals as though they were coming through phones or other low-quality equipment. The final call on the debate in the case of this track seems to have been that more full-steam rock was called for and synths and filters used only for atmospheric punctuation. Either way, that is some wailingly good vocal work!

Anyway, it’s a fine, fine record. No fluff songwriting, no filler (just a couple of overloaded productions)…instead we get staight-ahead Eurythmics in full Rock mode with various guest artists (most notable being Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, and Elvis Costello) gilding the lily.


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