Yesterday I wrote a long, rambling and overly nostalgic monologue about tape. Something intended to be the introduction to this piece, based solely on the fact that cassette was the format involved in my first ever album purchase. And whilst that original introduction grew bloated and unwieldy, those are definitely not descriptions I’d apply to the LP concerned. Because synth pop works on many levels. It shouldn’t – it’s such the simple proposition – yet the space between record and listener is where the understanding ferments.
It’s also important to isolate now from then; I fell for this record hard upon release. Something about the manner in which the analogue synth prowls around the soundtrack – it connected. Bubbled about my formative mind. The punctuation as well as the dialogue. Sound that’s sharp and crisp, but also unsettling and androgynous. You can hear it on ‘Love Is A Stranger’, the album’s opening track (and a fine single in its own right). Right from the off it’s all about interplay, motifs that ripple, the hardware deployed surprisingly lo-fi, yet used in tandem or triplicate in such a fashion as to be far greater than the sum of its parts. You can hear it on ‘Somebody Told Me’, the synth a refracted growl against Annie Lennox’s cold, spoken/sung lyrics. Something about the equipment Dave Stewart uses not only sculpts the mood but summons it, like an Edwardian medium at a malilluminated séance; ‘Jennifer’, a ballad about a woman drowning herself, has all the elements of a song pinioned to the over-earnest and the sentimental – cringe-worthy, even. Yet somehow, the execution makes it all work, layers of dispassion and restraint framing the narrative.
Of course, writing about Eurythmics exclusively in reference to the keyboards is akin to bigging up The Smiths in terms of what Mick Joyce and Andy Rourke brought to the party. And I should probably introduce some context at this point; Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) and Touch – both albums released in 1983 – represent not only specific strands of recollection, but also a musical territory the duo relinquished soon after, their sound manoeuvring away from electronic pop toward the far-less nuanced landscape of commercial, radio-friendly, adult-orientated pop/rock. In other words, anything post-’83 carries a very different flavour, and a sudden relaxation of any grip this band once held over me. Still, Annie Lennox has a voice and a demeanour that operate in both mainstream and alternative contexts – and its her presence on Sweet Dreams that makes the album what is. ‘Dangerous’ perhaps isn’t the right word, but the vocals on this record are anything but safe. Pristine annunciation hewn from the same paradigm of dispassion as the instrumentation. ‘Love Is A Stranger’, again; there’s a stanza where Annie sings:
It’s guilt edged, glamorous and sleek by design
You know it’s jealous by nature, false and unkind
It’s hard and restrained and it’s totally cool
and there’s such a chilly, serrated curl to her tone, the allusion is toward another word she uses in the same song: obsession.
This revisit backs up what I’ve long suspected; Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) isn’t a masterpiece of vast magnitude. Certain tracks don’t further the cause in any meaningful way – the cover of Sam & Dave’s ‘Wrap It Up’ in particular extricates itself from the overall mood, even if it does feature Scritti Politti’s Green Gartside on vox. Yet neither (unlike many contemporaneous LPs) is this album flat-pack or disposable. There’s a certain edginess, born if not through tonality then by implication. And one final element: image – probably best exemplified by the title song. Because this record can’t help but coexist with how it looks, the cover art and the distinctive videos a further component in dictating the mood. The Lennox of this era is simply stunning; a dressing-up box that not only circumvents traditional notions of sexuality, but reinforces the concept of song as duplicitous, as more than the listener bargained for.
Yup – I have this record down as a must have.
Eurythmics / Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) – Full Album