Our series of classic album revisits continues – that is, albums by British female artists/female-led bands since punk.
Eurythmics – In The Garden (1981)
by John Patrick Higgins
By 1980 Annie Lennox had already been in two recording bands: The Catch – an odd pseudo-disco MOR group – and The Tourists – Rickenbacker-toting Sixties revivalists who had had a big hit with an ironic cover of Dusty Springfield’s “I Only Want to Be with You”. The irony was lost on the British public, who made it a massive hit. This success prompted three things: the dissolution of The Tourists, Lennox splitting up with her boyfriend, Dave Stewart, and then immediately forming a new band with him. The band was pure pop synth ticklers, Eurythmics, and you don’t need to know anything about them. Throughout the 80s Annie played Brit Award ping pong with Kate Bush, duetted with Aretha Franklin and David Bowie, and bestrode the globe in a big leather car-coat soul revue, gobbling up the dollars. That’s Eurythmics.
Or is it? Before any of their success, Eurythmics made an album that didn’t chart anywhere, had no hit singles, and sounds very odd indeed. Is it the best thing they’ve ever done? Well, I think so. Allow me to try and persuade you.
After the breezy pop success of The Tourists, Annie and Dave did what any pop-savvy hit-makers would do: they dumped the band and recorded an album of oddball new wave disco at Conny Plank’s studio in Cologne, with members of Blondie, Can, D.A.F. and Stockhausen’s son, Marcus. The songs are murky and insistent, and there are none of Lennox’ later soul inflections. She sounds numb on many of the songs here. Her words are dissociative, barely there. The whole enterprise seems spooked. On the record’s cover Dave Stewart’s monkish head hovers next to a hedge. Annie appears to be giving herself a Heimlich manoeuvre.
First song, English Summer, is drizzled with big, gothy flanged guitars, and the chirruping of very un-English cicadas. Annie sounds lost, haunted, murmuring about “a mess in the kitchen”. In the body of this song, the repeated chorus – “there’s nothing like an English summer” – can only sound ironic. The song goes a.w.o.l. in the middle of itself, the drums fading out and fading in on birdsong, hammering, children playing and an ambulance siren. The very essence of an English summer.
Belinda was the album’s non-hit single and essays the guitar riff that Laura Brannigan and Pulp later employed on Gloria and Disco 2000 respectively. It might be the most classically Eurythmic thing here, leapfrogging the ginger skinhead years to the full band sound of Be Yourself Tonight. But even here there is disquiet: Holger Czukay’s French Horn comes swooping out of nowhere, for a single, two-second parp. You have to replay the song or wonder forever did I imagine that?
The next song, Take Me to Your Heart, should have been a single. It’s gorgeous: the descending synth line, the two-note bass, and some of Jaki Liebezeit’s sexily metronomic drumming, all hammer this tune into the back of your head. “It’s good to pretend that you’re here with me” croons the ghost of Annie Lennox, like Cathy Linton smudging the double glazing with her fists: these are wuthering hearts.
On She’s Invisible Now, Annie goes four better than Dave Bowie’s “Space Oddity” by counting down from 14, over the sound of somebody beating the shit out of an Olivetti.
Your Time Will Come has big guitars and a bigger chorus, but the singer is wraithlike, harmonising softly with herself, the harmonic layers building up like a tissue-paper collage: all gum Arabic and dirty fingernails.
A squall of feedback starts Caveman Head, and there are more one finger synths and a weightless Lennox intoning “I am very beautiful,” as she floats above the industrial landscape like smoke.
Never Gonna Cry Again was the album’s hit single – 63 with a bullet – and has a 60s garage vibe, which explodes into a fanfare of mellotronic colour. Sir Timothy Wheeler plays saxophone, but not so you’d notice. Holger’s French horn is slightly more obvious in the mix, as he grumbles and farts his way through the outro.
There’s not a duff song on this album. They are all deft, compact, surprising, and sound thrillingly contemporary. But the last three songs are extraordinary. All The Young (People of Today) is a slow drone with huge, echoing drums and some of Annie’s dumbest, blankest lyrics – and I mean that as a compliment. “Young girls are dreaming from their towers; they smell of flowers”. This is an empty anthem, a hollow-eyed cold war rally. No one is mounting the barricades with this on their Walkman.
Sing Sing has splashy disco high-hat, and is a distant relative of both Frère Jacques and the theme from “Are You Being Served?” The song is sung in French and contains an array of peculiar and indistinct noises, including Annie Lennox impersonating a sheep.
Revenge is a catwalk strut of a song. Stretching sinuously out on a bassline the size of a sofa, Annie finally sounds engaged: she’s gloating and glacial, delineating the qualities for a proper revenge, and it’s a buffet froid: “It has to be dangerous, it has to be refined, it has to be skilful, you have to take your time”.
The whole song unfurls on that big, fat plodding bass and Lennox is in cold eyed, keening form, shrieking and supplicating and always coming back to the motif, she’s going to get her own back. “I’m fast and I’m strong, my reflexes are good, it doesn’t take long, to achieve my desired revenge.”
It took them a few nervous breakdowns and a collapsed lung, but within a couple of years of this strange and brilliant record, Eurythmics were having number one hits, and Dave was succumbing to paradise syndrome. They had their revenge.