Tuesday, 2 June 2009

1985 Eurythmics: There Must Be An Angel (Playing with My Heart)

From day one, you always got the impression that Annie Lennox was itching to stretch her wings and break free from the Eurythmics' cold synth duo strait jacket and inject some warmth into their music to back the soulful voice she hinted at while in The Tourists. In 1985, she got her wish; 'There Must Be An Angel (Playing with My Heart)' has Lennox emoting for all she's worth over Stewart's pedestrian and understated backing that allows her to do her stuff centre stage completely unhindered.

There's no doubt that Lennox's voice is a powerful device. Never a weak point in the Eurythmics, she can split an octave like shelling peas and sings with a purpose and purity that perfectly complimented their usual detached and icy electronic tales of alienation. Her work on ''There Must Be An Angel' aims Aretha Franklin high, but does it reach the stars? Sadly, it doesn't.

For a start, what seriously hamstrings the song is a set of lyrics that, to my mind anyway, surpass Sting's infamous 'cough/Nabokov' and Des'ree's 'ghost/toast' rhymes in sheer awfulness:

"No-one on earth could feel like this.

I'm thrown and overblown with bliss".

"I walk into an empty room
And suddenly my heart goes "boom""!

The closing verse too has the most complete collection of 'ings' in one place since Barry McGuire 'inged' himself to doomsday on 'Eve Of Destruction':

"I must be hallucinating

Watching angels celebrating.
Could this be reactivating

All my senses dislocating?

and these are every bit as awkward and clumsy on record as they appear written down.

To hammer the tin lid firmly on, the song itself as a whole is lopsided in its construction with each line of the verses ending on an emphatic up note that promises the world, but then fails to resolve itself at the chorus which runs smack into a brick wall and has nowhere to go:

'There must be an angel playing with my heart'.

The 'heart' here rhymes with nothing preceding it, and rather than the uplifting and exhilarating mood the song aims for, it causes it to peter out flat into the awkward silence that follows a badly told joke.
Neither is it helped by Lennox's mistaking of over enthusiastic modulation for soul so that the last word of each line is stretched so far past breaking point as to lose all meaning and become something other than English:

"I walk into an empty roooooooooooooooooooooooooooooom

And suddenly my heart goes "boooooooooooooooooooooooom""

Scat is defintely not Lennox's forte and a Cleo Laine or an Anita O'Day she most definitely isn't (the song is too tightly constructed around its verses to lend itself to improvisation in any case). Far from the outpourings of a soul diva, her warblings come across as the finest, bad, half cut club singer at a low rent wedding in the suburbs.

Stevie Wonder provides a lively harmonica solo, but it sounds like it's been shoehorned in from a different song altogether, solely for the sake of the quality kudos his star name brings and the hope that some of his magic will rub off. But far from adding anything, it's totally at odds with the angelic, otherworldly vibe that Stewart tries to generate with Lennox's multi-tracked voice and top end harmonics and it ends up just being irritating.

'There Must Be An Angel' is as slick and professional as you like, but it's a hollow and joyless experience at heart, a bit like watching, say, Iggy Pop acting in some low budget film. Yes he's ever watchable and doesn't disgrace himself, but all you want is for him to get back to his day job, whip his shirt off and sing ' I Wanna Be Your Dog'. Or in this case, 'Love Is A Stranger'. Though Annie can keep her shirt on if she wants.

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