Eurhythmics start from the beginning

Review: The Lennox-Stewart reunion rekindles the old chemistry while creating a fresh sound.

October 19, 1999|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

There's a deep-seated belief among folks in the music industry that people -- by which they mean you, the typical consumer -- don't "get" groups. According to them, CD buyers have no appreciation for the power of collaboration, and thus see bands as consisting of two camps: The Singer and The Other Guys.

By that way of thinking, it would be hard to imagine the point of a Eurythmics reunion.

Never mind that the duo was one of the most popular recording acts of the '80s, generating such hits as "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)," "Here Comes the Rain Again" and "Would I Lie to You?" If the voice is all that matters in a pop group, then Dave Stewart -- who played "The Other Guy" behind singer Annie Lennox -- may as well have not been in the group at all. Seriously, did anyone really miss hearing him strum his guitar on Lennox's solo albums?

But there's more to being in a group than serving as the singer or acting as one of the other guys. What gives a group its identity is the chemistry between its members, a musical alchemy that converts their individual abilities into a collective force far greater than the sum of its parts. And that transformation is clearly at work in the new Eurythmics album, "Peace" (Arista 14617, in stores today).

"Peace" isn't an attempt to pick up where Stewart and Lennox left off when the pair called it quits nine years ago. It's more like a new beginning, one that makes more of the duo's experience and ability than of its shared history.

Not that the album pretends these two don't have a past together. Indeed, it opens with "17 Again," a synth-tinged exercise in nostalgia that finds Lennox looking back bemusedly at the mad chase for fame the Eurythmics were once swept up in. As the final verse knowingly puts it, "Sweet dreams are made of anything/That gets you on the scene."

Lennox isn't exaggerating, though, when she counters those memories with the hopeful chorus, "I feel like I'm 17 again." From the raucous abandon of "Power to the Meek" to the ethereal beauty of "Peace Is Just a Word," the songs Lennox and Stewart have put together for this album boast a freshness and vitality seldom found in reunion projects. It's almost as if this Eurythmics is a new band made of old parts.

It helps that the sound of "Peace" finds both Eurythmics taking an atypical approach to music-making. There's none of the techno influence Stewart has toyed with in recent solo projects, nor does it lean on the sort of splashy soul stylings Lennox has made her hallmark.

Instead, the album's sound is lush and orchestral, fleshing out the expected mix of guitar, drums and synth with everything from whispery jazz trumpet to lush string passages. "Forever" even pushes the album's instrumental palette to "Sgt. Pepper"-like extremes, dressing the Beatlesque melody with all sorts of sonic gingerbread, from sawing "Day in the Life" strings to crisp, "Penny Lane" trumpet. It's almost as if the duo figured, "Well, as long as we have an orchestra here, let's have some fun with it."

That sense of play doesn't prevent the two from looking at big issues and serious problems. Indeed, the lyrics are at times deeply spiritual, suggesting at points that the only way to be at peace with the world is to be at peace with yourself. But rather than turn preachy, Stewart and Lennox make their point with a smile, as in the gleeful sarcasm of the mock-rocker "I Want It All." They seem to be enjoying themselves too much to waste time on frowns.

So even though the songs themselves are often tinged with melancholy -- a musical mood that seems to bring out the luster in Lennox's honeyed mezzo-soprano -- the music's sadness is inevitably mitigated by joy. "It's all bittersweet," sings Lennox in the beautiful, reflective "Anything But Strong," and that sums up the general mood of "Peace."

Maybe what makes "Peace" such a successful reunion is that the Eurythmics seem not just older, but wiser and more centered than when last they made music together. Whether those qualities will be enough to restore the band to the prominence it once had remains to be seen, but it would be sweet indeed if that dream came true.

Eurythmics

"Peace"

(Arista 14617)

Sun score ***

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