In the ’70s, she was one of five Tourists, singing lame new wave retreads with little creative control. In the ’80s, she gave a face and voice to Eurythmics, an inventive and open-ended partnership with Dave Stewart in which she dared to be great in any number of stylistic settings. In the ’90s, she undertook a solo career that proved, as Harry Nilsson noted in song, one is the loneliest number.
The Scottish native’s immediate prehistory is aptly covered in Eurythmics’ Greatest Hits, an unannotated stack of chart singles that omits only “Right by Your Side” from the duo’s inventory of American Top 40s. That it wholly sidesteps the disputed 1984 soundtrack is a shame, but the album otherwise collects the songs that made Eurythmics famous.
As a studio-centric experiment untroubled by a stable lineup in its early days of touring, Eurythmics never offered more than an adequate concert experience, and, at times, a lot less than that. The first half of the semi- chronological double-disc live compilation, drawn from various European and American shows in the mid-’80s, is downright dire, but the later chronicles — especially “Thorn in My Side,” “Missionary Man” and “The Last Time” — partly redeem the effort with energetic, skilled playing and remodeled arrangements.
Two years after parting ways with Stewart in 1990, Lennox carefully delineated the new nature of her career by abandoning the easy action of Eurythmics rock to wrap her estimable pipes around pop music of a more sophisticated stripe. Recorded with a trio of keyboard programmers and a batch of guests, Diva doesn’t entirely eschew beats or volume, but still lays its antiseptic egg on a plush satin cushion. Lennox has the voice and artistry to sing anything she chooses, but autonomy casts her adrift in a sea of mature restraint with no creative wind blowing. She hedges her bets with the full-blooded (and magnificent) “Walking on Broken Glass,” the funk-like “Precious” and the pulsing “Little Bird,” but the heart of Diva is in lush, romantic vocal showcases like “Cold,” “Primitive,” the glacial “The Gift” and the stops-out grandeur of “Stay by Me.” The CD bonus track — a real you-shouldn’t-have- bothered joke — is “Keep Young and Beautiful,” a 1933 show tune (from Roman Scandals) obviously selected for its anachronistic sexism and recorded with smug fish-in- a-barrel patronization and scratchy mock-Victrola sound. (Diva was also issued in a deluxe limited edition with two feathers pressed in the cover, a brief liner note that I wrote and a bonus disc of a 1992 radio interview.)
Perhaps mindful of her limitations as a songwriter, Lennox joined the flood of established artists (Duran Duran, Elvis Costello, Luther Vandross, Ramones, Guns n’ Roses, Gloria Estefan) resorting to albums of covers in the mid- ’90s. Choosing obvious K-Tel memories and skimming their surfaces to fashion willfully wrongheaded milquetoast yuppie scum interpretations, Lennox fills Medusa with wan, deracinated renditions of rock, soul and singer/songwriter classics. Among the victims of this insulting mistreatment: Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” Al Green’s “Take Me to the River,” the Temptations’ “I Can’t Get Next to You” (done to a garish disco turn), the Persuaders’ “Thin Line Between Love and Hate,” Paul Simon’s “Something So Right” and Neil Young’s “Don’t Let It Bring You Down” — what, no Carly Simon numbers on the jukebox the night this thing was conceived? The few surprise selections on Medusa fare even worse. Lennox and producer Stephen Lipson pulp the Clash’s “Train in Vain” into laughable cream cheese jazz and bake Bob Marley’s “Waiting in Vain” into a sugary acoustic soufflé. The only song here that benefits from her ministrations is “No More ‘I Love You’s,” a minor 1986 hit for Britain’s otherwise forgotten The Lover Speaks, and that’s only by dint of the original’s obscurity.