Annie Lennox Arista Records
Albums that feature cover versions of other people's songs seem to be both the easiest and the most difficult to pull off. With her latest album, Medusa, chameleon-like pop diva Annie Lennox succeeds brilliantly in transforming old songs into new works of art.
Considering the surprise success of Lennox's last effort, Diva, (which featuredmostly Lennox originals) it is tempting to imagine that the singer is suffering from sophomore jitters or simply laziness. But reworking other people's songs is more difficult than it first seems. The medium presents its own set of problems. Often, the burden of the past proves too much for an artist to bear.
With Medusa, however, Lennox makes the most of these inherent obstacles. What emerges is a powerful, energetic recreation of the past. She manipulates a broad range of musical styles, covering the work of artists as diverse as Bob Marley, The Clash and Procol Harem.
The Scottish comedian Billy Connely once started a show, to much laughter and applause, by asking, "Isn't `A Whiter Shade of Pale' the most pretentious piece of crap you've ever heard in your life?" He's half right. Procol Harem's famous ditty (and only hit) has always been annoyingly obscure. But it's also strangely beautiful. Lennox's eerie modern version of the song is almost an improvement on the overblown original.
The richness of Lennox's voice is also on display in her rendition of "Downtown Lights." The singer shows her amazing vocal range in her blue-eyed soul version of the Al Green classic "Take Me to the River." On another Motown classic, "Can't Get Next to You," she brings in a Spanish guitar to interesting effect. Ultimately, though, it is Lennox's voice that remains the album's most vital instrument.
Only on Neil Young's "Don't Let It Bring You Down" does Lennox's voice somewhat fail her. This track is one of the album's weakest, and things aren't helped by overdone instrumentation. Lennox's version just doesn't hold up next to the original.
Lennox scores surprising success with some of the more unusual and difficult songs on the album. Her rendition of Bob Marley's "Waiting In Vain" is a prime example. In the hands of a lesser artist, the song could easily have degenerated into imitation-reggae drivel, but Lennox handles this material expertly. She completely recreates the song without losing sight of the original spare, beautiful Marley melody. Lennox's funky bass-driven version of "Train In Vain" also shows her gift for creative interpretation. She remains faithful to the original Clash tune, even as she adds her own brand of soul to the ultimate anthem of white-boy angst. When she sings, "All my dreams come tumblin' down," you believe her.
Even when covering questionable selections like Paul Simon's creamed-corn lullabye "Something So Right," Lennox is a compelling performer. The voice that made the Eurythmics famous (sorry, Dave) has only improved with age. Medusa makes the listener look forward to what Annie Lennox will produce next.