1. Annie Lennox – Diva (1992)
With faint pulses of bass and keyboard, and a simple descending piano line, Annie Lennox begins “Why,” the opening track, first single and emotional centerpiece of her extraordinary solo debut Diva. After a long string of acclaimed releases with Eurythmics, expectations were high for Lennox’s solo debut, and she shattered them. Diva is a pop masterpiece, an exquisite work of significant beauty and heart. “Why” is a song of wrenching power, especially its riveting ending in which Lennox, her vocals increasing in gravity and power, unleashes a torrent of emotion before the stunning whispered ending, “You don’t know what I feel…” Left unsaid, of course, is that she doesn’t know what he feels, either. “Why” is a song about doubts, failures and triumphs, and the maddening way we treat each other (especially the ones we love). “Why” is left unanswered because, frankly, there are no answers. Credit should go to Producer Steve Lipson, who really does brilliant work on this album and gets the best out of Lennox. Every single track is a winner. “Walking on Broken Glass,” with its repeating orchestral motif, became another big hit as the follow-up single to “Why.” There are several strikingly beautiful ballads, like the soulful torch-song “Cold,” and “Primitive,” with its incandescent strings swaying gently in the background giving the song a luxurious exotic vibe. Lennox works with The Blue Nile on the somber piano ballad “The Gift,” and she also seems inspired by them on the gorgeous “Stay By Me,” a serene shuffle that brings The Blue Nile’s “Downtown Lights” to mind (a song that Lennox would later cover on Medusa). “Precious” is a heart-felt ode by Lennox for her young daughter; the emotional commitment obviously genuine as she sings repeatedly “I was lost until you came.” “Little Bird,” with its prominent keyboard riffs and lurching vocal arrangement is more closely aligned with the Eurythmics’ sound than any other track on the album. Lennox delivers another unforgettable performance as she sings about personal empowerment and confidence in self. “Legend In My Living Room,” with its icy synths and dark sense of drama, is another track that harkens back to her days with Eurythmics. Annie Lennox, along with her genius collaborator in Eurythmics, Dave Stewart, has always been one to push boundaries. Eurythmics was not a pop group that put out routine chart-friendly, easily digestible albums. There was also an overriding sense of drama and tension, a spirit of experimentation, a way to ratchet up the emotional power. Lennox does the same on Diva. None of the songs are tracks you’d expect to hear on pop radio, and yet they all have strong melodies, and of course her glorious voice delivers them with passion and intensity. One of the most amazing sections is at the end of “Money Can’t Buy It,” a song whose central idea is “I believe that love alone might do these things for you.” During the manic climax, she is the ironic “Diva” of the title and album cover: “I got Diamonds, you heard about those, I got so many that I can’t close my safe at night, in the dark, lying away in a silly dream,” making an arch reference to Eurythmics’ signature hit. It’s a powerful sequence and yet another moment of pure brilliance on Diva. She ends the album with a sardonic smile and a heavy dose of irony with a period take on “Keep Young & Beautiful,” a song written in 1933. It sounds like a bit of novelty to end the album, but her slightly unhinged delivery of lines like “Keep young and beautiful, it’s your duty to be beautiful, keep young and beautiful, if you want to be loved” obviously take aim at society’s (and our own) expectations for what, who, and how we should be. Diva is ultimately about escaping whatever wreckage is holding you back and finding that self-worth, not allowing others to define you, recognizing what’s important in life and, most of all, LOVE. I believe that love alone might do these things for you.