I went to music school thinking I wanted to sing standards for the rest of my life. My father brought me up listening to Ella, Billie, Dinah, Sarah and Nina. They were (and still are) my girls. There’s something about the timeless charm of those songs, the heart-wrenching cry of melody and the illustrative nature of the lyrics — at a time when people weren’t so able to express publicly how they really felt and had to be clever about saying things like “fuck you!” There’s a reason why a lot of singers get so immersed in standards — reinterpreting these timeless songs is an easy way to let one’s voice shine.
Like a lot of other people, when I think of Annie Lennox, the Eurythmics’ mega-hit “Sweet Dreams” — which came out more than 30 years ago — plays automatically and repeatedly in my brain, and before I heard this record, I wasn’t so sure I wanted that to change. To be honest, it can irk me when pop artists cover standards — I wonder whether they’ve run out of things to say. For someone like Lennox, who has such a tremendous repertoire, it seems like singing other peoples’ songs can be less consuming. She’s always pushed the envelope in pop music, and perhaps I was expecting her to have a more personal take on the Classic American Songbook. Sarah, Ella, Billie, Nina, what made those singers so profound — knowing as we do that they didn’t write any of those songs — is that they approached the songs as if no one had ever heard them before. They reinvented these songs over and over again. For Lennox, Nostalgia seems to be more of an escape, a journey for herself — but that’s something I can also respect.
Annie Lennox’s voice sits high above the rest of this record. In fact, it’s hard to really listen to anything other than her voice. I don’t say that in a bad way — the point is to hear every inflection, her clear-cut tone and her effortlessness. With that in mind, I wish the production had used fewer effects, particularly on her voice, as they mask the natural inconsistencies and humanity of her voice (or of any voice, for that matter). However, there’s no denying that Annie still sings just as powerfully as she has for the last 40 years. “Mood Indigo,” with its Chess blues flavor, Mary Ford-esque vocals and bawdy horn solos, feels like the most purposeful track on the record. Almost any time you put woodwinds on a standard it reels me in, and Lennox’s version of “Strange Fruit” has them — flutes played by Lennox herself — in a beautiful, somber arrangement of this beautiful, somber song.
Waiter, please bring me another martini!