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Annie Lennox
March 17, 1995 at 05:00 AM EST

You won’t find a more actressy pop singer than Annie Lennox. With her prolific use of hair dye, and her flair for transforming fleeting expressions into flashy characters, Lennox has long epitomized the persona-mad chanteuse of the video age. Beginning with Eurythmics, Lennox matched perfect pop songs to a litany of shifting selves, from the cynical dominatrix of ”Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” to the voracious drag queen of ”I Need a Man” to the sprightly gamine of ”There Must Be an Angel (Playing With My Heart).” Small wonder she even beat Madonna to the wry song title ”Who’s That Girl?” All of which should make Lennox the ideal singer to cut an album like Medusa (Arista), a work comprised of highly disparate covers. While cover albums have become numbingly fashionable of late (Gloria Estefan, Luther Vandross, Roberta Flack, Shawn Colvin), most fail the test of interpretive singing-that is, to tap into different characters while maintaining a through- line of personal style. Given that Lennox has already lived up to the title of her first solo album-”Diva”-this should be a snap. So how did the record end up such a muff? Pedantic song choices don’t help any. Only 2 out of 10 songs stray from the most common classic-rock fodder. With material from sources like Paul Simon, Neil Young, Procol Harum, and the Temptations, Lennox stands wide open to charges of boomer pandering. Even more so for including Al Green’s ”Take Me to the River,” a more frequent cover choice than ”The Star-Spangled Banner” (though the latter was never saddled with a groove this spent). Such deadening familiarity would’ve mattered less if Lennox bothered to fiddle more with the arrangements or to wrest new ironies from the lyrics. But her takes on ”A Whiter Shade of Pale” and ”Don’t Let It Bring You Down” simply microwave the original melodies and points of view. While an act like Saint Etienne proved how radically an artist like Neil Young could be rethought with their dance-trance version of ”Only Love Can Break Your Heart,” Lennox shows no such imagination. Likewise, the only quirk you’ll find in her treatment of ”Pale” is a miniaturization of its arrangement with harpsichord twinkles, making it sound like music for sugarplum fairies. Elsewhere, Lennox risks more elaborate changes, only to lapse into perversity. She loosens the Clash’s rocking ”Train in Vain” with loping hip- hop beats, cool jazz bass, and full gospel whoops. But the production, which combines the dinkiness of synth-pop with the Valium drone of adult pop, drains all the tension right out-a liability for much of the record, in fact. Lennox belly flops hardest in the Persuaders’ 1971 hit ”Thin Line Between % Love and Hate.” Shafting its original R&B melody, she devises a pop version that’s incoherently flip. All of which isn’t to say Lennox turns every cover on Medusa to stone. The grand ”No More ‘I Love You’s”’ (from the forgotten British duo The Lover Speaks) equates the end of love with the death of language, giving Lennox a suitably literate vehicle. Better yet, in Bob Marley’s ”Waiting in Vain,” she achieves a cover-song apotheosis: By accenting the elegance of the tune over the churn of the rhythm, Lennox not only finds a new way into the song, she promotes a fresh appreciation for Marley’s skills as a melodist. The prim, Bacharach-like arrangement completes the package, encouraging Lennox’s most appealingly regal bearing. Still, perhaps the ultimate test for Lennox arrives in Paul Simon’s ”Something So Right.” She sticks with the song’s original arrangement, yet claims it for herself by her creamy vocals alone. If the rest held to such a standard, Lennox might’ve scaled the interpretive heights of, say, Marianne Faithfull. Instead, she ends up closer to Rita Coolidge-that cover-version vampire from the ’70s, sucking the life right from the song. C-


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