We Too Are One
1989: Arista ARCD-8606
When Dont Ask Me Why came out I was visiting my sister in Oregon; I remember hearing the song on the radio (with surprise), and seeing on her television in the same weekend the startling video for Deee-Lites Groove Is in the Heart. Within months I was en route to London and Paris. It was a time of fascinating shifts and upheavals, and this album therefore landed on uneven ground.
I enjoyed it then and still do, but it really is an odd, standalone album, almost anchorless in a sea thats suddenly shifting even more than usual. It almost sounds like a collection of songs, not an album per se (although perhaps thats a self-contradictory assessment). Given the circumstances of the albums recording, I suppose thats not surprising. I guess anyone would have an individual opinion of it, and mine is personal and quirkily tied to the times, so I wont elaborate here because it just wouldnt translate. The album does, but my interpretations dont. Thats fine.
Then again, I think that for me and for actual professional reviewers/critics this album suffers unavoidably from the weight of comparative material: this is, after all, Eurythmicss eighth proper album, and even though every one of those other albums was distinct and seemed to have arrived out of nowhere, expectations and precedents from all of them (and D&As work as part of The Tourists) are almost automatically pre-positioned on one side of the scale before the album even starts playing. Perhaps thats a reason the title and cover photography are so direct, to put approaching listeners on guard rather than let them say oh, ANOTHER Eurythmics album with all the baggage implied therein for good or for bad. Thats just a speculation, though.
Production-wise, the albums just about immaculate: even where on first listenings it seems too clean, later listenings reveal a discreet grittiness and a sense of bits left un-mopped-up and then if you go back a few more times youll find that even the slop is artfully presented and may well have been originally intended. A good example of this is found near the end of How Long,a track I have found compelling and punchily beautiful since I first heard itas Annie sings the last verse and guitar/sonic chords stab from left to right in counterpoise: those stabs contain some kind of rough vocal breathing or grunt that give the stabs an intensely discreet extra bit of impact, especially as the stabs are stereophonically contained elements in themselves.
Sylvia I have to mention for two reasons: first, that its gorgeously sinister and almost gothic, with such beautiful stop-and-start poise; second, that I will probably go to my grave wondering what the HELL was going on with all those snippets of chatter that follow the end of the final chord (my favorite head-shaker being Annie saying earnestly every bit of it is some shade of brown ). In any case, its an exquisite reminder that Eurythmics were never hit-seeking music-industry whores but could concoct this kind of dark confection with full icing on.
I must confess that until well after this album came out I had no idea who Charlie Wilson was, nor the Gap Band (though Id heard a song or two of theirs), so a certain aspect of potential appreciation for what I was hearing was lost on me for some time. Wilsons voice seemed to be a natural continuation of Joniece Jamisons contribution to the Eurythmics sound as an adjunct to Annies voice, but more closely attuned in terms of range and bite. In fact there are times on this album (and especially on Boris Grebenshikovs Radio Silence) where Im not sure whether the wailing wildness of a sung note is Annie Lennoxs voice, Charlie Wilsons voice, or Dave Stewarts guitar. And it aint because the recording aint clear, lemme tell ya . It sounds like they managed to find a vocal hinge-point for Annies voice and Daves guitar, with rich results, although I bet the most effective impression of this would have been in concert on the brief tour they did in support of We Too Are One, as is hinted at in the concert bits in the video We Too Are One and the recording of We Two Are One on the Eurythmics Live album.
When I read somewhere in an article about Annies then-forthcoming solo album Bare that shed taken up kick-boxing as a hobby, my immediate reaction was the woman who wrote a song called You Hurt Me and I Hate You is KICK-BOXING??? The visual was pretty alarming. The song itself is decent, with or without the savage orchestration and paranoia-enhancing production, but its all a bit over the top really probably intentionally so.
I have a hard time imagining how The King & Queen of America would work as a single, even though I have its various incarnations on CD as well as vinyl, because its a beefy track that works well in full-quality stereo and doesnt seem to be built for cheap-radio-speaker play. I know that Dave & Annie used to keep that sort of variance in mind as they reviewed potential mixes of their work, so I can only assume that they decided to go with this song as is for some controlled contextual play; it sure doesnt seem to suggest itself for casual car-radio encounters. Then again, maybe this songs best considered in the context of its priceless video, with D&A portraying 12 pairs of iconic American (US, that is) stereotyped characters .
Angel I appreciate but dont particularly enjoy, ditto Revival, and When the Day Goes Down would probably be in the same boat if it werent for the video of this song (half studio version and half concert delivery) on the video album We Too Are One), which gives it a much weightier import (the crucial moments before they finished that world tour and then went on indefinite hiatus as a duo). And then theres their acoustic rendering of it (recorded exquisitely on the second Dont Ask Me Why single), which was riveting and which proved so when they dress-rehearsed it during a hectic British TV show rehearsal and had the entire show crew watching in rapt silence.
Twelve or so years after I wrote most of the above commentary, I belatedly note that I neglected to say anything about two of the albums best tracksan omission probably due to them being so core to the album that I took them for granted. Those are the title-ish track, We Two Are One, and the albums main single, Dont Ask Me Why. The latter grew on me and is now a beloved Eurythmics song, not just in this incarnation but also (and because of this) in their acoustic, stripped-down rendering of it on the CD single. It arcs back and forth between emotional extremes and takes us through a compositional journey full of orchestration and tension before fading out with still more back-and-forth, unresolved rocking (which is beautifully represented in the tracks video). And the former is just a treat, a lovely way to kick off the album with a largely bluesy tone that still has Eurythmics-electronica nerves intertwining and helixing around the tracks drumbeat spine and it does so right out of the gate with the unusual device of Charlie Wilson imitating a harmonica by the use of his hands and voice a gimmick Lennox used to surprisingly good effect 26 years later in her Grammys duet with Hozier.
The albums opener is arguably an affirmation of D&As interrelationship as artists but can also be embraced by any number of people in relationships (well, when theyre affirming it, anyway). Personally I love how it kicks off the album with a bit of down-and-dirty, easy soulfulness and, unusually, a positive tone. Not that the rest of the album is negative or pessimistic or whatever, but this starts things off on a sharp and bright beat that still carries undertones of doubt and depression as one should expect of a Eurythmics product. I wasnt among the rare few who got to see Eurythmics tour with this album, as they intentionally played to smaller venues in general, but what It seen and heard of recordings from that I can see that they ratcheted the power up a few more notches in performance, especially to bring the songs end not to a fade-out but to a climax starting with a playing-off of the one, two/too, one, two/too lyric ambiguity.
Were that song and the albums title a doth-protest-too-much attempt to say that the duo was solidly unified when in fact they were straining to go different ways? Personally I dont think so. To me, it does have such overtones but it more importantly first is a song about a relationship and second is an affirmation that these particular two have intensely intertwined personalities regardless of whether they are producing music together or not. And Im OK with that.
One last thing about this album: Jean-Baptiste Mondinos arresting photography for this album remains supremely Parisian and cosmopolitan-chic many years later. I was very pleased that the front and back covers featured respectively Annie with Dave as a hovering/adjacent presence slightly out of focus and then vice-versa. The images are strong in a gently abstracted way, and so are the connotations (such as that, significantly, in this stark lighting the form of each of them is partly defined by the others background presence).
Comments © 2005/2018 Mark Ellis Walker, except as noted, and no claim is made to the images and quoted lyrics.