1999: Arista 07822-14617-2
Never before, for me, has an album arrived with such healing urgency. I first heard that they were recording a new album, their first in 10 years, while I was still reeling from the alleviated-nightmare developments of the conflict in Kosovo. It was like being told that beauty still existed and that it would be re-emerging shortly. My own life was straggling along pretty badly at the time too, and by the time the album actually came out I had basically lost hope that anything could be good again. And then, within a week or two, everything turned around so completely that I was left gasping. Suddenly instead of being in a pit of despair, tens of thousands of dollars in debt, I was free again and I had Annies voice telling me it was going to be all right.
The album itself I really love, although it has a consistency completely different to all of Eurythmicss previous albums: theres more emotion here, more personal reflection, and less social observation in a general sense. These are personal songs, though not in that sense comparable to Annies third solo album, Bare, which took all such issues about a thousand times further. Peace is deliciously melodic and contemplative, with a few chill-to-the-bone moments (such as Ive Tried Everything and its lithe-yet-lethal chorus), but I think much of its charm lies within its context, that is, an unexpected Eurythmics album at a time of acute global distress; I dont know how people who werent or wont be aware of that will receive this album, but to me it was heaven-sent.
Many of the tracks dont seem likely to translate into independently successful songs, but I may well be wrong about that Eurythmics have surprised me on that score a number of times. Peace Is Just a Word, for example, transformed breathtakingly into full-blown concert setting as evidenced in their Peacetour video, giving the already intense album version a serious run for its money. But many of the tracks seem too tied to their immediate context17 Again (which after all is sardonically autobiographical), Beautiful Child (although I suppose that could be appropriated for any singer whos newly a parent), Anything But Strong, and My True Love. I Want It All could be picked up and hammered by anyone anywhere who wanted a gritty little generic rock piece, though I love their original of it no less for the songs obvious disposable-rock nature.
Power To the Meek is a more personalized, classic Eurythmics anthem for us othersyou dont fit in anywhere, but so what?! Celebrate your uniqueness, warts and all, and delight in discovering your own path! And anyway, DANCE!! Theres a line from Dorothy Richardsons 1916 novel Backwater (part of her Pilgrimage opus) that brings a different eras version of the sense of this lyric (the time being probably 1893, the internally-focused character 18 or 19, the setting London):
For a long time she sat blankly contemplating the new world that was coming. Every one would be trained and efficient but herself. She was not strong enough to earn a living and qualify as a teacher at the same time. The days work tired her to death. She must hide somewhere . She would not be wanted. . If you were not wanted . If you knew you were not wantedyou ought to get out of the way. Chloroform. Someone had drunk a bottle of carbolic acid. The clock struck ten. Gathering up the newspaper she folded it neatly, put it on the hall-table and went slowly upstairs, watching the faint reflection of the half-lowered hall gas upon the polished balustrade. The staircase was cold and airy. Cold rooms and landings stretched up away above her into the darkness. She became aware of a curious buoyancy rising within her. It was so strange that she stood still for a moment on the stair. For a second, life seemed to cease in her and the staircase to be swept from under her feet . Im alive. It was as if something had struck her, struck her right through her impalpable body, sweeping it away, leaving her there shouting silently without it. Im alive . Im alive. Then with a thump her heart went on again and her feet carried her body, warm and happy and elastic, easily on up the solid stairs. She tried once or twice deliberately to bring back the breathless moment standing still on a stair. Each time something of it returned. Its me, me; this is me being alive, she murmured with a feeling under her like the sudden drop of a lift.
For me the albums excellence shines most from Peace Is Just a Word and Ive Tried Everything, as well as Power to the Meek because it gave us a little of Annie Lennox huskily rocking out as she hadnt done on her solo albums. Ive Tried Everything is particularly poignant, a tense end-of-the-century (or only of the relationship?) admission of complicated helplessness in the face of the end-of-the-centurys panoply of challenges and horrors and its presented with such tautness and restraint, the vocals always in the forefront above a nervously shifting harmonic wash, the actual drumming always kept muffled by the rest of the music . And that chorus: Oooo, youre a loser now; yeah, youre a loser . Not exactly inspiring, eh? Yet somehow it is.
The two incongruous tracks here, to me, are Forever and Lifted.
Forever is unquestionably Beatles-related, but how much of the songs lyric is targeting the band and how much is targeting the bands listeners/fans, Dave & Annie included, or is it all about John Lennon, or Eurythmics themselves in a wry superimposition? Im still surprised they even wrote and recorded this one and poured all that passion into it, and the story that must lie behind it intrigues me senseless .
And then theres Lifted, which is the ultimate in Eurythmics dual statements, on par with their English Summer (which bookends it, in their discography) and its growth/decay evocations: here we have a funereal dirge of a track, Annies vocals chording heavily like her old harmonium, the whole song trudging along like slaves dragging a block of the pyramids, and the message of the lyrics is supremely uplifting and transcendent. You can hear the promise of heaven or at least relief from earthly chains in the songs close, mournful though it may be. Maybe its only hope for hopes sake; thats still better than no hope at all.
Did I mention that I love this album? It doesnt exactly fit yet in the Eurythmics pantheon, to me, partly because Annie was miked too in-your-face-dly throughout without variation or nuance, so that each tracks journey was largely dependent upon it lyric rather than its overall sound. But as time passes, Im sure, it will relinquish its tight borders and find its place therein.
Comments © 2005 Mark Ellis Walker, except as noted, and no claim is made to the images and quoted lyrics.