Dark Road

Annie Lennox

2007: Arista/Sony/BMG 88697157432

  1. Dark Road
  2. Dark Road Acoustic Version

When I first heard “Dark Road,” a bit ahead of its release as a video or single and well ahead of that of Songs of Mass Destruction, I wasn’t especially taken with it. It takes its sweet time sounding like anything unique or distinct from Lennox’s solo catalogue or even general singer-songwriter-complainant stuff. And its bridge comes almost out of nowhere, as far as the song goes.

The video recast everything superbly and turned it into a track strong enough to stand on its own…once the video’s messages and themes were stated, anyway. I realize that seems contradictory, that the song needed the video but stands on its own, but really it’s not: it’s just a question of knowing its language, and the video makes it quite clear.

The song’s lyrics read and sound classic Lennox (I can’t quite use the word “typical” instead of “classic,” because she has so many facets that even the chameleonic one can’t be considered representative), and on one level certainly they are the lament of one who wants to have hope and see the good in the world but struggles mightily with the overbearing frustration and disappointment the world also supplies in crushing superabundance. Which is of course not new territory, considering how much of Bare alone is cut from that same tree.

What is new is a kind of looking outward rather than inward. “I’ve got an open road; it didn’t get there by itself” was on its own a challenging and fascinating line, but when seen in the language of the video it becomes breathtakingly confrontational…and for a change the confronted isn’t a failed love or herself.

It took me a handful of watchings of the video to be reasonably sure of what message(s) Lennox was conveying, but there was no mistaking the dangerously assertive use of the U.S. flag—a Brit just does not utilize that without making a point, and to do so as Lennox does in this song’s video (which by the way is available on the Enhanced Edition of Songs of Mass Destruction) is pretty ballsy indeed.

In the video, Lennox appears as a sort of low-budget Wonder Woman (or one no longer glorious) in (in her words) “a rather sad little costume,” looking quite at sea in a country that she can’t represent anymore or even find her place in. Her explosion of frustration with being so lost and with the absence of her soul’s focus is where the bridge blows the song wide open:

“I can’t find the joy within my soul
It’s just sadness takin’ hold
I wanna come in from the cold
and make myself renewed again
It takes strength to live this way
the same old madness every day
I wanna kick these blues away
I wanna learn to live again…

And when she sang that last line, eyes tightly shut in concentrated frustration, arms up, hands pressing against her head—and she suddenly flung her arms wide open and threw her head back to look up to the sky, and the video cut to a full-screen waving U.S. flag, I actually gasped at the audacity of such a gauntlet being thrown down to the U.S. to get itself back on track as a great nation and a positive world player instead of a despotic sociopath harming friend and foe alike. I got goosebumps and chills at that moment. I still do.

Ironically “Dark Road” works better as a single than it does as part of Songs of Mass Destruction, where it’s a torch-bearer’s cry of frustration followed by a lot of fun and fury that has little in common with it (aside from Lennox’s voice, which is in magnificent form overall).

The “Acoustic Version” here shouldn’t be mistaken for an “unplugged” one, because although it’s built on a stripped-down instrumental base it still features Lennox in multi-track vocals on the bridge. The arrangement’s good and makes a nice alternate version to encourage reconsideration of the song.