I’m sure everybody will agree that your parent’s taste in music has a massive impact on your own musical development. For me, I was raised on an eclectic mixture of Oasis, The Sound of Music Soundtrack (don’t ask – it’s best if you just leave my Dad to it) and Annie Lennox (my Mum). When my Mum heard me listening to the latest release, Nostalgia, from the Scottish singer-songwriter she came running upstairs with excitement, proud to have converted me to her musical preferences.
It’s been four years since we last heard from Annie Lennox, this length of time is certainly a contributing factor to the record’s high quality. It’s easy listening and a refreshing exploration in to the territory of jazz and blues, but it’s not perfect. In tackling some of the most iconic, timeless melodies, Lennox falls short of bringing something new to the table in several instances. As her third cover album, you would expect her to have mastered the knack of providing the listener a refreshing take on classic songs, without distorting the original beyond the point of recognition. When attempting to tackle Billie Holliday’s ‘Strange Fruit’, though, this is to her detriment. The lack of pizazz means this track falls short and cannot be expected to have any sort of permanency as a result.
Nor can Annie get one over the genius that is Frank Sinatra; her effort to take on ‘September In The Rain’ is decent but doesn’t make the listener want to get up and dance. It’s a slow, miserable take rather than the original which is catchy and uplifting… to paraphrase Green Day, you really can wake me up when Lennox is done singing about September. Furthermore, ‘The Nearness of You’ is musically sound but Lennox’s attempt is naked without Louis Armstrong’s distinctive vocal alongside the first lady of song, Ella Fitzgerald’s.
Yet Lennox’s sweet, saccharine vocal converts Hoagy Carmichael’s ‘Memphis In June’ from a track I wouldn’t dream of having on my iPod, to one that I would happily put on a playlist to send me off to sleep. Lennox’s rendition of ‘Georgia On My Mind’ is a passionate effort that when played alongside Michael Bublé’s attempt becomes a delightful duet. Maybe 21st century artists do have something to bring to the old, after all. If you open the covers in two separate YouTube tabs I’m sure you’ll see what I mean!
Further highlights include ‘I Put A Spell On You’ with an opening melody that sounds like its dancing along the boundary of ‘Christmas carol’; Lennox’s voice is unfaltering, assured and there’s a level of suspense to the track that makes for enjoyable listening. It doesn’t miss the sax or orchestral components heard in Nina Simone’s effort and I feel really benefits from being stripped back to basics. Lennox says the way she saw this track was from the perspective of a vengeful woman, and you can certainly hear waves of angst coming through.
“This issue of infidelity between men and women is a common theme that a lot of people will identify with… Screamin’ Jay Hawkins was the man saying he’d put a spell on the woman “because you’re mine”. To sing it from the women’s perspective gives it a different kind of twist.” – Annie Lennox
This album is certainly competent but whether it’s anything more than that? That’s a question we’ll have to get back to you on, after listening to it a few more times.