1987: RCA 6794-2-R
Is it the best Eurythmics album ever or not? Tough call, especially for someone who likes most of their work so very much. Its 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 Ive appreciated it more and more as time has passed. Musically its 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; its both the nearly-undiluted flow of the creators themselves and a distilling of what theyd 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 dont 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 thats 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 Mullers vision (the video album Savage) wasnt 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 thats another review .
As for specifics, well thatll take some time for me to write, but in the meantime Id 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 tracks video its 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 Stewarts petulant, wailing guitar (an excellent counterpart if not twin to Annie Lennoxs 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 Annies 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 songs 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 songs 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 dont 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 ironicto show what I protect being probably the most arresting, to me).
BOXED BONUS TRACKS:
OH so much to say here! Lets start at the very end, just because I cant wait any longer to do so: Come Togetheroh 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 Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band movie (this is one of those situations where yes it truly is something you cant 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 dont 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 tigerthe wildness is quite present here). Its 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), its 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 dont 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, theres a bopping-along perfunctory-yet-hefty bass/drum structure with only splashings of murky keyboards and syn-harmonica chords as the canvas over which Annies 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 Monroes hips and revealing that its only built for angular movement what makes it great is that in this case thats 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 Dont Ask Me Why). But its when the strutting pauses and the chorus is delivered that the track plants its flag: Daves voice on the left, Annies?/Daves? an octave above on the right (a wonderful ambiguity), and Annies 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 Id never heard it before despite having the 12" single (which contains instead an Extended Edition that wasnt 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 didnt 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 wasnt 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 tracks 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 wont 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 Id 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.
Comments © 2017 Mark Ellis Walker, except as noted, and no claim is made to the images and quoted lyrics.