Savage

Eurythmics

1987: RCA 6794-2-R


  1. Beethoven (I Love to Listen to)
  2. I’ve Got a Lover (Back in Japan)
  3. Do You Want to Break-Up?
  4. You Have Placed a Chill in My Heart
  5. Shame
  6. Savage
  7. I Need a Man
  8. Put the Blame on Me
  9. Heaven
  10. Wide Eyed Girl
  11. I Need You
  12. Brand New Day
     
    Boxed Bonus Tracks:
  13. Beethoven [Extended Philharmonic Version]
  14. Shame [Dance Mix]
  15. I Need a Man [Macho Mix]
  16. I Need You [Live]
  17. Come Together

Is it the best Eurythmics album ever or not? Tough call, especially for someone who likes most of their work so very much. It’s like asking a Kate Bush fan which is her best work so far, The Dreaming or The Hounds of Love (or…).

Personally I loved Savage when it came out and have never stopped loving it since…in fact I’ve appreciated it more and more as time has passed. Musically it’s what many hardcore Eurythmics fans had wished for so much: a stripping-down of the production from the excesses of Revenge, back to the just-Dave-and-Annie-and-an-8-track intensity of Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This). And yet, of course, it is so much more than just a return to that form; it’s both the nearly-undiluted flow of the creators themselves and a distilling of what they’d learned since those earlier recordings.

So we get the coldly orgasmic precision of “Heaven” and its 14 words of lyrics…the peppy stereophonic schizophrenia of “Beethoven” (I don’t remember who used the term “merry chugging” in their review of this song but it was just perfect)…the violently sarcastic yet crisp “I Need a Man”…and much, much more. Deliciously unapologetic lyrics married to methodically relentless melodies and rhythmic hooks. “Tell the one that’s lying with you / To get right up / And go back home / To get right up / And go back home….”

But nothing prepared me for the double-whammy of having to also consider videos for every song on the album. And Sophie Muller’s vision (the video album Savage) wasn’t always what I saw when I first heard Savage, but in almost every case I love what she did with Eurythmics for that video album. But that’s another review….

As for specifics, well…that’ll take some time for me to write, but in the meantime I’d like to call attention to “I Need a Man.” When the Savage video came out, a theatre-lighting friend of mine commented after watching this track’s video “it’s so exact…the performance is so deliberately sloppy, but every aspect of the production is so precise….” And that subtle exactness is evident on the audio track as well: the instrumentation is sparse and crisp with the exception of Dave Stewart’s petulant, wailing guitar (an excellent counterpart if not twin to Annie Lennox’s wildly menacing Mick Jagger impersonation), and yet even Dave is keeping the tempo with exquisitely offhand precision (consider the dry sharpness of his playing after Annie’s “yella-bellied alligator” sequence).

The two tracks on this album that have always been stumbling blocks for me are “Shame” and &#Savage.” “Shame” sends out some general themes but never quite gives me the impetus for them being highlighted, so the punch of the song’s thrust is lost on me, unfortunately. And that thrust is quite clearly delivered at exactly the midpoint of the track, with a crescendo of drum sounds (sampled or synthesized but not actual drumming) leading into the final, repeating chorus sequence, a crescendo that flits by on initial hearing but is mightily hammering home the song’s message (whatever it might be, ultimately) as the allusions to glamour and lifestyle and the tantalization of the general populace. I get that part; how exactly “shame” is attached to it eludes me somewhat, especially when juxtaposed to the obvious references to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones near the end.

As for “Savage,” I know Stewart has described its lyric as “Annie at her most bloodcurdling,” but I don’t quite see the path directly to its destination and therefore only appreciate the track for its more immediately accessible metaphors and connotations (which are icily ironic—“to show what I protect” being probably the most arresting, to me).

• BOXED •  BONUS TRACKS:

OH so much to say here! Let’s start at the very end, just because I can’t wait any longer to do so: “Come Together”—oh my GOD! The growled notes! The Mick-Jagger-robot combination of animal and mechanical! The sheer brazen chutzpah of concocting a cover version that is so solidly its own! And above all, that wonderful height the chorus gives their combined voices!

I think my introduction to The Beatles’ “Come Together” may have been the not-too-bad version by Aerosmith on the yes-too-bad soundtrack to the risibly bad Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band movie (this is one of those situations where yes it truly is something you can’t call a “film”), but I was familiar with both for long enough for this sideswipingly loopy version to completely floor me and set me off into giggle fits. I hasten to add that I don’t laugh at the recording, rather at its audacious milieu-tapping and the way that actually works for the song. I mean, the lyrics are manglingly cryptic and punning already, and on the original track there was little more than musical mechanism in the instrumentation under it, so propelling that situation into a synth/sequencer-speed paradigm naturally could result in something like this, the offspring of a computer and a tiger (which is not to say “a computerized tiger”—the wildness is quite present here). It’s like the the “Missionary Man” video cross-bred with “I Need a Man.”

The funniest part is that it really is infectiously fine. If you can get past the initial shock if you know the original (and I bet that truly is a hurdle for some people), it’s got a number of slick stylistic exaggerations tucked in there as part of that “TVP Project” theme (see my essplanation of this in my comments on Boxed, I don’t want to repeat myself for the four or five CDs involved). In the case of “Come Together,” which clearly was recorded around the time of “I Need a Man” and much of the rest of Savage, there’s a bopping-along perfunctory-yet-hefty bass/drum structure with only splashings of murky keyboards and syn-harmonica chords as the canvas over which Annie’s paired vocal tracks snarl and shout the obscure lyrics. (And in the “shout” category, pay special attention to the line “hold you in his armchair you can feel his disease,” in which at least one of her tracks is singing each word separately.)

Syncopation, as on the line “He bag production, he got walrus gumboot,” is actually hilarious to hear among the hammering of rhythms the vocals provide throughout, like seeing a robot imitate Marilyn Monroe’s hips and revealing that it’s only built for angular movement…what makes it great is that in this case that’s undeniably intentional and the irony no accident, Annie Lennox having amply proven by this time (and since then) that androgynous personas notwithstanding she is quite capable of swinging some feminine hippage (see the videos for “Would I Lie to You?” and “Don’t Ask Me Why”). But it’s when the strutting pauses and the chorus is delivered that the track plants its flag: Dave’s voice on the left, Annie’s?/Dave’s? an octave above on the right (a wonderful ambiguity), and Annie’s flying an octave above the latter dead center, it creates the rock/sonic equivalent of a cathedral nave. It just leaps up there and smacks the boss at the top and pauses cockily before diving back down for the wrapup. (p.s. the second chorus is the best example of this, for some reason)

On to the rest, then: the “Philharmonic Version” of “Beethoven (I Love to Listen to)” was a surprise, not least because I’d never heard it before despite having the 12" single (which contains instead an “Extended Edition” that wasn’t included in Boxed), but at least it was a pleasant surprise…this version is mostly instrumental and gives some glimpses into the tapestry patterns under those schizophrenic vocals on the album version.

The “Shame” “Dance Mix” was available on CD single, so I was a bit disappointed that they didn’t include instead the remix of “Do You Want to Break-Up?” which was on the B-side of the “You Have Placed a Chill in My Heart” 12" single. It wasn’t a briliant departure from the original, rather more of the same as the “Chill” remix itself (also omitted here)—I suppose only the semi-acoustic “Extended Version” of “Thorn in My Side” on the Revenge reissue is in the same family of longer, differently ornamented versions.

The “Macho Mix” of “Missionary Man” was a good choice, anyway, as it provides an opportunity to appreciate the subtly simple basis of that track’s backbone, which is all percussion in the form of samples of drum/bass elements…all used as percussion, so very nonchalantly arrayed under all that vocal exaggeration.

The live version of “I Need You” is a nice treat, giving a glimpse casual Eurythmics listeners won’t have had into the way D&A deliver the goods in concert not just at full bombastic strength but also in intimate acoustic settings. And I’d never heard this version before (always a nice surprise). But the original album version remains the definitive one, for me…especially as illuminated by its video.


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