Annie Lennox is truly accomplished. Since the early ’80s she has racked up worldwide record sales of 78 million, scored Grammy and Brit Music awards, and snagged both a Golden Globe and an Oscar (for “Into the West,” the theme from “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”).
Annie Lennox recruited 23 divas, including Madonna, Celine Dion, kd lang, Pink and Melissa Etheridge, to contribute vocals to an AIDS awareness track called ‘Sing.’
Her stellar work, produced as half of Eurythmics and as a solo artist, reaches yet another height on her just released fourth solo album, “Songs of Mass Destruction” (Arista). Her passion for humanitarian causes and activism is infused into her new music.
One new track, entitled “Sing,” was inspired by a CD from AIDS activist group The Generics. Lennox drafted 23 fellow divas — including Madonna, Celine Dion, kd lang, Beth Orton, Pink, Isobel Campbell and Melissa Etheridge — to contribute vocals to the song.
“The theme is calling for the national implementation of a program to prevent mother-to-baby HIV transmission,” Lennox explains in the press notes that accompany the promo CD. The release also states that all profits from download sales of “Sing,” as well as a new, limited edition lithograph T-shirt, will go to South Africa’s grassroots Treatment Action Campaign.
Lennox is 52 and the mother of two. (Sixteen-year-old daughter Lola made tabloid headlines in May for an off-the-rails, house-trashing party she threw while her father, filmmaker Uri Fruchtman, was away.) She is also one of the most gay-friendly artists working in pop music.
She hosted LOGO’s “NewNowNext” music video show on Oct. 14 (showing in repeats), and took time out from her “Songs” live tour for a candid Q&A.
The album is fantastic, traversing lush ballads, upbeat Eurythmics-style pop and soulful, pounding cries to action both personal and global. I love the electronica ballad “Through a Glass Darkly,” which leans toward the mournful side lyrics-wise: “Shadows still appear in the house tonight/all those ghosts that keep on comin’ back.” What’s the story behind it? And are you ever a rose-colored glasses kind of person?
I wish I could tell you more, but there isn’t really a story behind it. The song is full of metaphors for a kind of inner landscape. The “house” and the “rooms” are aspects of the self and psyche, darkness, memory, life. The “you” is actually addressing the “black dog” of depression. I’ve been a black sunglasses person for most of my life, but recently I’ve changed my optician. Sorry — optometrist!
In “Love is Blind” you sing, “Oh sugar, when ya gonna come?/I spend my life getting older/but you still got me on the run.” What are your current thoughts on love?
There are different kinds — eros and agape. Most of us are caught up in eros, with the ego at the helm.
How many songs did you end up writing for the album? Are there any extra tracks we might hear somewhere else?
Well, I probably wrote about 15, but I don’t believe in [carrying extra] passengers. If they’d have been great, they would have been there.
What does this album accomplish or put out there that your other albums haven’t to date?
Lennox was famous for both her voice and her striking look in the early days of Eurythmics.
It’s hard to compare albums like that. It’s so subjective in any case. Each one is a labor of love, or frustration, at the time, you know. There’s a kind of organic feel to some that I really love, and my vocal performance is more mature, flexible, more free. [Album producer] Glen Ballard said he was trying to catch up with all my vocal personas — at the last count it was about 18!
Is there a happiest song on the album?
No, no happy songs whatsoever! It’s all darkness and doom from start to finish. It should have come with a health-warning sticker! P.S.: the music’s uplifting though, ha-ha!
Did you see Dave Stewart’s 2004 “Barbarella” stage musical? What classic camp movie would you like to do a musical score for if you could pick one?
I’m afraid I didn’t get to, but I was very impressed that he did that. I’m not really a huge fan of musicals to be honest. If I ever did one, it would probably have to be based on an Anne Rice novel or something.
Would you like to do alternate versions of “Sing” with even more guest contributors? Like an all-male version?
Yes, with an all-gay male cast. Another fabulous idea — ping!
Did any of the artists you asked to contribute to “Sing” say no? Did you ask Britney or Paris Hilton?
Everyone was very gracious indeed. Only a few couldn’t get on board, as they have very busy schedules, like I do! No, I didn’t ask Britney or Paris — should I have?
You contributed a track to the 1991 AIDS benefit album “Red Hot + Blue.” What is the closest to home that HIV/AIDS has hit?
You just have to step into any hospital, hospice, orphanage, rape crisis center, township…the extent of the pandemic is astronomical. People in wealthy Western countries really have no idea. The statistics are off the scale, and for every statistic, there is a child, a mother, a father, a brother or sister.
My wake-up call was when Nelson Mandela personally used the word “genocide” to describe what is actually taking place in South Africa. And the governments there have held a denialist stance for the last 10 years, with the health minister making claims that medication is more toxic than the virus itself. It’s very confusing and disturbing.
Have you always been an altruistic, globally-aware person?
I’ve always been very aware of life’s cruelty and injustices. When I was a kid I used to get very emotional at the sight of a little old hunchbacked man, a busker who played the accordion on the main street of my hometown. Life’s full of ironic twists. You can’t heal it all, but you can choose to do something rather than nothing.
There are thousands of NGOs [non-governmental organizations] out there battling on the front lines of human chaos and tragedy. You can empower yourself by empowering them. Whatever you might think of Bill Clinton, his new book, entitled “Giving,” is chock-full of inspiring views and suggestions.
Speaking of Clinton: Hillary or Obama? Or do you have another favorite 2008 presidential candidate in mind, and why?
Oh, god, American politics all stinks, don’t you know. It all seems to come down to who’s got the most money and friends in high places. I’d like them both to win, and do the thing together! Wouldn’t that be something?
In a recent interview with HX magazine you referred to STDs in one of your answers. So, what are you telling us, Annie?
I can’t remember. Oh, yes, I think I must have been making a double-entendre.
Speaking of STDs, isn’t it strange that we have celebrity spokespeople who are openly HIV-positive, but none with herpes? What’s up with that? Herpes is pretty widespread.
Some things are better left unsaid.
Best thing about being 52?
It’s the opposite of 25!
Were you shocked to hear Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad state, “We don’t have homosexuals” in Iran?
He might be in a little denial on that score. It is some measure of that kind of shut down, rigid thinking. A bit of a shock to us “liberal society” folks.
Are your children fans of your music?
Most of the time they seem to approve!
What is their global sense like? Do they consider Britney Spears a role model, or is that a fear of yours?
They are very articulate, conscious individuals, and naturally they love everything that kids their age are into. I don’t try to dictate anything because that would be counterproductive, but I do comment on life all the time. We have fantastic discussions.
What songs will you be performing during the concert? Can you even tolerate singing “Sweet Dreams” for the zillionth time? Has it turned into a bitter nightmare?
Why on earth would “Sweet Dreams” become a bitter nightmare? It’s an anthemic piece of social commentary/philosophy that’s stood the test of time with dignity. The songs are right across the board, past/present. They’re hard to select because the choice is so varied. The set has valleys and peaks, highs and lows. Typique, n’est-ce pas?
Would you like to send George Bush a copy of “Songs of Mass Destruction” so he doesn’t have to go looking for it?
I doubt that anything could get past that thick skull and gargantuan ego. I think he should be renamed “The Duper,” along with his close friend Mr. Blair. On their tombstones should be engraved, “I duped millions, created carnage, made millions, and slept very soundly at night.