Fresh from the unlamented ruins of London’s Tourists, Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart formed Eurythmics, at first to pursue their love affair with Germanic experimental/electronic music and attempt a translation of it into a peculiarly British form. Co-produced by Conny Plank and featuring an intriguing assortment of musicians — Blondie drummer Clem Burke, members of Can and D.A.F., composer Karlheinz Stockhausen’s son Marcus — the alluring In the Garden is filled with lyrical love songs (“Belinda”) and gently strident social anthems, like “All the Young (People of Today)” and “Your Time Will Come.” Empowering it all are Lennox’s captivating, flexible but strong vocals and a commitment and humor that turn potentially pretentious material into unaffected, poetic work.
From such humble, non-mainstream beginnings was a new chart-topping, trendsetting group created. Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) — thanks mostly to the monotonic dirge of the same name — took off and lofted the pair into world prominence, a success they maintained on Touch by proving themselves capable of enormous stylistic and instrumental variety, as well as exceptional songwriting. From lovely (“Here Comes the Rain Again”) to jaunty (“Right by Your Side”) to dramatic (“Who’s That Girl?”) and driving (“The First Cut”), Touch is an excellent record filled with invention and chicly styled nouveau pop. To take advantage of sudden global stardom, an album of remixes (four songs with vocals, three of them also presented as instrumentals) by Jellybean Benitez and Francois Kevorkian was issued as Touch Dance.
The 1984 album — as the result of a contretemps with the film’s director, not exactly the soundtrack but “music derived from Eurythmics’ original score” — finds the pair moving further into rhythmic experimentation, as on the crazed cut-up stylings of “Sexcrime” and “Doubleplusgood.” A strange but affecting record, although clearly not one intended to be taken as a normal chapter in the group’s development.
The hard-edged, relatively low-tech Be Yourself Tonight marks a real change in the duo’s thinking. Exciting, catchy soul-rock (“Would I Lie to You?”), insipid, aggravating soul-rock (“I Love You Like a Ball and Chain”), two swell duets (“Adrian,” with Elvis Costello; “Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves,” with Aretha Franklin), plus five more tracks all have an underlying stylistic consistency. That’s a new twist for Eurythmics, but one they seem capable of handling. Retooling into an ’80s Motown factory might seem a little selfconscious, but they carry it off with aplomb and even a bit of heart.
Taking an unexpected but worthwhile hell-hath-no-fury detour, the breakup of Lennox’s marriage yielded the vituperative lyrics of the blunt and aptly titled Revenge. “To run away from you/was all that I could do,” from “Thorn in My Side,” is only the tip of the impassioned album’s iceberg; other songs (“A Little of You,” “The Last Time,” “Missionary Man”) turn a scornful postmortem into deeply felt cries that reverberate in Lennox’s remarkable vocal cords. There are draggy spots that overdo the musical sentiment but, by and large, this is one of the pair’s best records.
No such luck on the following year’s Savage, a shoddy mess of scant merit. Where Revenge made fine use of a small, crack collection of studio hands to flesh out the material in a variety of luxurious idioms, Savage relies on a bed of chilly soundalike computer programs and multi-tracked vocal gimmicks. (Discounting Stewart’s guitar work and the all-acoustic “I Need You,” only “Wide Eyed Girl” sounds as if human beings played on it. Both add crowd noises, perhaps to underscore the point.) The wooden material has static rhythms, a shortage of melodies and entirely too few hooks; the mostly miserable lyrics suggest continental sophistication and thoughtful emotional reflection but fizzle in a hurried blur of triviality, obscurity and seeming creative apathy.
We Too Are One isn’t nearly as bad — electric guitars and a bit of soul (backing vocals are by Charlie Wilson of the Gap Band) provide the humanity missing from Savage — but such improvements can’t overcome the duo’s songwriting fatigue. Bland arrangements of dashed-off melodies and lyrics that are among Eurythmics’ worst make this a barely adequate effort. “Don’t Ask Me Why” (a return, along with the blunt “You Hurt Me (And I Hate You),” to the subject of post-romance recriminations) is solidly catchy, as is the stomping title track, which goes on too long. But when a usually articulate and intelligent band settles for such simpleminded drivel as “(My My) Baby’s Gonna Cry,” it’s obvious things aren’t quite right.
In light of Stewart and Lennox’s subsequent work together, the Tourists were remarkably low on vitality and originality, content to rehash ’60s American acid and folk-rock. Symptomatic of the quintet’s shortcomings, the crowning achievement of their three albums was a dull remake of Dusty Springfield’s “I Only Want to Be with You.”
As a Tourist, Lennox — who was later revealed to be a far more expressive vocalist — sang with strength but no character; her duets with guitarist Peet Coombes (the band’s primary songwriter) resemble the Jefferson Airplane. Elsewhere, the group recalls It’s a Beautiful Day, the Byrds, Mamas and Papas, the Who and others. The Tourists were so busy aping others that if they had had a personality to call their own, they probably wouldn’t have known what to do with it. It’s a shame, because some bands have successfully absorbed and adapted these same musical prototypes with much greater élan. At their best, the Tourists could only imitate. (Proof that derivation never ends, The Tourists‘ mod-pop “Blind Among the Flowers” could be the stylistic blueprint for the Primitives.)
The US version of Reality Effect is actually a mixture of the band’s first two British releases. Tourists (1981) and Should Have Been Greatest Hits are compilations.