For The Record: Nostalgia

By Devin McGrath-Conwell

When the name Annie Lennox is mentioned in conversation, it invariably leads to someone providing their perceived best take on “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” which no one had asked for. When Eurythmics released their second album in 1983, which shares its name with the song, the soaring and haunting voice of Lennox was propelled into the realm of obsession. More than 20 years later that reality has not changed. Outside of her work with Dave Stewart in Eurythmics, Lennox has released six solo albums at a crawling pace, of which Nostalgia is the most recent. This one is special, however, because instead of staying within the realm of electronic rock and pop, which she has reigned over for decades, she adds an album of standards to the throng of similar endeavors by aging pop stars. But unlike some, which miss the mark astoundingly (I’m looking at you Rod Stewart), Lennox brings her incomparable panache to a varied pack of songs.

The album opens with “Memphis in June,” which takes no time proving that Lennox knows exactly how to light upon each note with a tenderness that brings it to our attention softly: she lays the melody before us with the grace of a performer who sees precisely where it must land. This tenderness is deepened as Lennox lets her soulfulness loose and delivers a synth backed rendition of “Georgia on My Mind.” It may not be Ray – no one can ever equal him – but she succeeds because she doesn’t try to replicate him. Her musical choices accentuate the longing at the lyrics core in a lovely way.

With the beauty of the first two tracks, Lennox decides to mix it up and unleash the full strength of her voice. With a sparse piano opening that lends intense focus on her voice, “I Put a Spell on You” has an biting funk that outpaces any of the multitude of covers the song has endured. In this track she adds an attitude that should obliterate any doubt of her ability to rock.

From this point on the album settles NOSTALGIA into a more subdued, but no less energetic or entertaining string of standards. Above anything else, this album exists as a collection of unexpected choices that Lennox has compiled to touch on an astounding range of emotional registers. The stunning soul of “Georgia on My Mind” has a partner in “God Bless the Child,” which reveals what a gospel album from Lennox would sound like. The arrangement begins with the sparseness of accompaniment found across the album, but the track builds into a crescendo adding a peppering of voices and organ behind Lennox, growing into a triumphant choir of sound and fury leaving a powerful impression as the notes fade.

Tapping into quite a different vein of sentiment, “I Cover the Waterfront” and “I Can Dream Can’t I” communicate a longing worthy of Patsy Cline. The aching hopefulness of waiting for love without knowing if it shall return becomes visceral in the hands of Lennox on “Waterfront,” and in the latter, the emptiness of unrequited love has never sounded quite so heartbroken as it does here. The songs work powerfully as a pair, both featuring lyrics telling tales of love separated by an ocean. The remainder of the album is not left to emptiness and longing, for it holds a tremendous duo of love songs that stand out as highlights on the album. On “The Nearness of You” we find Lennox’s voice at her most vulnerable, and my personal favorite track on the album, “You Belong to Me,” may be the most openly, sweepingly romantic track Lennox has ever recorded in her esteemed career.

Every track on the album has had every drop of emotion distilled from it and brought forth. The simple fact is that Annie Lennox’s voice is so perfectly suited to the collection that it becomes difficult to argue against including her renditions in any discussion of the best. Her technical skill is irrefutable, but it is her instinctual attraction to the evocative emotional strains in songs that allows her to deliver truly spectacular albums time and again, and Nostalgia is no exception from that truth. Keep them coming Annie, we will all be waiting.