Bare
+ Interview/Acoustic DVD

Annie Lennox

2003: J Records 8287652072-2


  1. A Thousand Beautiful Things
  2. Pavement Cracks
  3. The Hurting Time
  4. Honestly
  5. Wonderful
  6. Bitter Pill
  7. Loneliness
  8. The Saddest Song I’ve Got
  9. Erased
  10. Twisted
  11. Oh God (Prayer)

Wow.

It’s a bizarre ride…the most upbeat tracks have the most savagely beat-up lyrics, and the gentlest ones are the most full of the will to perservere (well, with the notably harrowing exception of the closing track, which just left me wide-eyed and staring at the speakers as if I were watching her slowly slash her wrists in front of me). It’s like Diva all over again in terms of power and solidity, but about a thousand times darker.

If it wasn’t clear in all that, I am giving this an emphatic but complicated thumbs-up. The bonus DVD with the limited edition release was epiphanic in its confirmation of all the reasons I deeply admire Annie Lennox.

“A Thousand Beautiful Things” was an astonishingly touching start to the album—and so quickly gone! It ended too soon—I was longing for more…it was like a beautiful spring shower freshening everything but moving on just as you’ve decided to strip and dance around in it. The crucial lyric, missed by every review I read when the album came out, is this: “And even though it’s hard to see / The glass is full and not half-empty.” Where this line was mentioned, it was dismissed as a trite pleasantry…but those references missed the fact that Lennox is stating that the glass is not “half-full” but “FULL”—and that’s what’s so important here: how difficult it is to recognize not one nuance or another of an imperfection but rather the reality itself, a full glass that one may or may not recognize as being good or bad in any measure. This is Lennox getting an upper hand on a lifelong tendency toward depression and turning that blade into a tool rather than a weapon, and when you recognize the import of that “glass is full” nuance you can see the song as more than a mantra of desperate acceptance of pessimistic reality. There’s an epiphany in that first verse that shines through everything else and gives strength to continue walking.

“Bitter Pill”—lyrically sounds like “Love Is a Stranger” translated into a completely different language, and musically it’s a bit like “Money Can’t Buy It” after a kickboxing workout with a psychotherapist. Either way, this would have been my pick for a single—that groove is almost obscenely addictive by the last verse…and it is so very strange to be gyrating and strutting like a fiend to such raw, angry lyrics…. And am I the only person (besides Lennox and the production team, of course) who notices the whispered “Remember this” that puts a little scratchy edge on the eighth beat here and there, starting from the second measure? The phrase is used in other songs on the album but in more benign ways…. This track may seem like straight-up pop on first hearing, albeit pretty vitriolic pop, but give it some more listens and you’ll hear all sorts of stuff become apparent…such as the sonic stacking (and previewing *of* that stacking, as snippets of guitar licks appear and then vanish) going on.

“The Saddest Song I’ve Got” sounds so Scottish! On the surface it’s only sad in its overall maudlin sound, but the lyrics hold some profound depths under glass…it’s taking several listenings to dip a little deeper each time.

I forgot to call out “Wonderful” in my initial comments about Bare, possibly because such concisely stated passion/frustration needs no improvement. But I do love the little sharp-edged gem facings Lennox tucks into her lyrics such as this track’s deftly ambiguous line “I wanna hold you and be so held back.”

“Erased”—possibly my favorite song from the album, eternally fighting for that title with “Bitter Pill” (“Twisted” being a dark-horse contender that has turned out to have surprisingly tenacious resonance, as I note 15 years later). Then there’s the choral/emotional wave crashing on rocks and draining off midway through this stanza: “Well here I go remembering again / All the anger and the blame… / People in glass houses shoudn’t throw those stones / But…something just flew through my window pane….” I think that sums it up the album nicely…and that her multitracked backing vocal on the word “blame”expands into two (and then three) descending adjacent notes like a stain or watercolor bleed is just beauteous. (I didn’t notice until listening to the track again years later that that backing vocal’s arrangement is previewed in the synth descant on the first verse’s second part, paralleling this in structure, something I had missed perhaps because that synth line is repeated this time around but with the backing vocals (all Annie’s, natch) embellishing and enriching the soundscape.) I was very impressed with the oh-no-it’s-NOT-over double false ending to this track…highlighting the futility of trying to just “erase” the storm.

“Twisted” I heard before the album came out, and it actually suffered by being out of context; the song is solid on its own, yes, but coming at the end of all those storylines of pain it is much stronger, less superficially simple. Unexpectly I found this song more relevant to a revisiting of a past relationship, long after the album came out and six years after the relationship ended severely, and it’s now almost therapeutic to hear the ending melange trudge purposefully along: “I didn’t mean to make you suffer…I didn’t mean to make you cry; you didn’t mean to make me suffer…you didn’t mean to make me cry….”

“Oh God (Prayer)”—even though I was bracing myself for this one, thanks to advance description, I was utterly unprepared for its rawness. What caught me, once I recovered from my initial reaction, was that it wasn’t just “poor pitiful me” as it sounds at first listen but more like a live feed from someone so deep in their pit of pain that they can’t see anything else, not even the far worse suffering they know others have suffered. On my second trip through this nightmare song I kept thinking about how when you’re in the worst of your own agonies you are seemingly incapable of remembering, say, the Holocaust, or for that matter genocidal activities going on right now. If I didn’t know better, I’d wonder if Lennox was seriously so self-obsessed; one trip through the Eurythmics album Peace will clear that issue up neatly, if you’re not sure. This track is hard to listen to but only because she’s capturing an extremely personal moment anyone can have and articulating it with flinch-inducing clarity.

Having said all that…Annie Lennox is at least ten of the thousand beautiful things she sings about.


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