Songs of Mass Destruction | Arista
Annie Lennox’s last CD, Bare, was her post-divorce confessional and catharsis, drawn from the ruins of a marriage whose collapse clearly left her shaken and uncertain. Most mainstream music critics salivated over it, hailing its naked intensity as the former Eurythmics’ solo-phase masterpiece. But Bare lacked either the blood-swirled venom that drove Marvin Gaye’s Here, My Dear or the shattering vulnerability of Beck’s Sea Change, two breakup albums that saw their creators radically change style and approach, challenging what fans thought they knew of their musical heroes. By contrast, Bare was an unintentional self-parody that found Annie’s familiar singer-songwriter tropes of existential angst, genetically wired emotional pain and bottomless spiritual despair all simmered down to meandering, shapeless dirges. It was a fucking bore: a sad-sack, Eeyore-like friend telling one depressing tale too many.
Is the horribly titled Songs of Mass Destruction, Lennox’s fourth solo CD, better than its predecessor? Undoubtedly. Is it any good? Sorta. Produced by Glen Ballard, with all songs written by Lennox, Destruction has been both a critical and a commercial hit, debuting at No. 9 on the Billboard charts and (as of this writing) clinging to a perch in the Top 40. Still, it’s at most the second best of her solo efforts, her masterpiece being 1992’s Diva. Destruction does, however, contain enough energy and experimentation with sonic tapestry to simulate a pulse that was lacking on Bare. Annie sounds engaged and awake, often vibrant. The stark, piano-driven lullaby of “Lost” and the moodily lovely opening ballad, “Dark Road,” are balanced by the piano thump and crunchy guitar-rock textures of “Love Is Blind.” The nobly intentioned “Sing,” inspired by the devastation wreaked on women and children by HIV/AIDS, and featuring its all-star Choir of 23 (including Madonna, Bonnie Raitt, KT Turnstall, Angelique Kidjo, Shakira, Beth Orton and more), is less a song than a cringe-inducing shopping list of clichés (“Sing, my sister, sing/Let your voice be heard/What won’t kill you will make you strong . . .”). The CD’s high point, “Womankind,” is a hip-hop–inflected journey back into vintage Eurythmics terrain — playful, unpredictable in songwriting, production and multitracked vocal performances. It shows Annie pulling off the difficult trick of being so very much herself, but also, and thankfully, transcending.