Annie Lennox’s ‘Songs of Mass Destruction’ evolves into a personal, not political album

By Nekesa Mumbi Moody

NEW YORK – It doesn’t take much to get Annie Lennox talking passionately about politics.

Ask her what she thinks of the war in Iraq, and she’ll shift into a tirade about man’s inhumanity to man, terrorism, why the world needs to rethink war as a response to conflict, and disingenuous leaders.

“I was kind of really shocked at how our politicians can wave a cloak around the truth and people can be very easily deceived en masse … and (how) certain things may be done in the name of a nation that might be, in terms of human rights abuses, really quite dodgy,” says Lennox.

To that end, she’s titled her new album “Songs of Mass Destruction.”

“Obviously, I was taking a pot shot, a swipe at the lie that we were given in our own country and here too, the excuse of going into Iraq,” says the Scottish-born singer, who lives in London.

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But when it comes to the actual content of the songs, Lennox steers clear of any Bush-bashing or scathing social commentary. Instead, most of the songs are crafted in a manner that’s become her trademark, with artful lyrics that speak to heartache caused by personal conflict instead of political ones.

“I’m not really a political songwriter in the terms of maybe Bob Dylan,” says the 52-year-old Lennox, looking regal with her short cropped blond hair as she sits in a downtown New York hotel a few days before kicking of a U.S. tour.

“My songs are really about human condition, a feeling of polarity, confusion, beauty, sadness, despair, love, unrequited love,” she explains. “These (are) historical human issues that people have been writing about … to kind of express themselves, and come to terms with their own inner landscape.”

The Grammy- and Oscar-winning singer-songwriter has been particularly adept in translating pain into powerful, searing material. The music of Lennox, who first gained fame as the face of the duo the Eurythmics in the ’80s and later sold millions of records as a solo artist, is often filled with feelings of despair, even when seemingly upbeat, like the hit “Walking on Broken Glass.” The titles of the tunes on “Songs of Mass Destruction” – “Through the Glass Darkly,” ”Dark Road,” ”Smithereens” – continue that trend.

But the twice-divorced mother of two teenage daughters notes that the sober tone of her music is just “one side of the coin” and adds that she’s become more hopeful as she’s gotten older.

“It’s a mixture of the two things. I have to temper my responses, I have to take responsibility for my responses now. When I was younger, I tended to implode,” she admits. “Now, I am taking another response. I’m definitely going forward and definitely checking my negative behavior pattern, or thinking, because I don’t think it’s helpful. It will only get me down in the hole, and I don’t think that’s going to solve anything.”

Instead, she’s taken a more activist approach to some of the issues that have weighed her down, most notably traveling to South African and campaigning on behalf of woman and children infected with the HIV and AIDS, in an attempt to stop the epidemic of new infections in that country.

“She’s at the height of her power now as a singer and a writer,” says the album’s producer, Glen Ballard. “She wants to inspire, and to let people feel some of the things that she feels and if you walk away from this record feeling some of what she feels and seeing some things from that perspective, I think it can make a difference.”

One of the rare songs on the disc that reflects her social mind-set is “Sing,” featuring Madonna, Celine Dion, Gladys Knight, Pink and other female artists; the feminist anthem is designed to garner more attention to the issue of women with HIV.

“I wanted their endorsement, and I thought it would be fantastic to have some kind of united front, some kind of unified voice,” Lennox says. “This is an issue about women and children, and we are all internationally renowned … We can give a voice to other women who don’t necessarily have a means of communication to say what they like.”

Not having a platform to say what she wants is not Lennox’s burden, but she admits that when the Iraq war first began four years ago, she felt afraid to speak up about what she felt was going to become “another Vietnam.”

“You didn’t dare to speak up,” she said “You came to America, you had to be quiet, unless you’re Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins, or the Dixie Chicks, and I give them full credit for speaking up because they were treated abysmally … they were treated as they were betrayers of the nation, and in a nation that you are supposed to have freedom of speech?”

Now that she’s started speaking up, she’s not about to stop. And while she hasn’t gotten any backlash for her views, she says even if she did, it wouldn’t deter her: “I have to do what I have to do.”

On the Net:

Annie Lennox | Official Website

Ever since I learned about Eurythmics induction I’ve been seeing my life run before me – Performing in tiny hole in the wall clubs, then theatres and eventually arenas, stadiums, and festivals across every major city.. sleeping on ‘the bus’ arriving in Boston,…