Originally published on So So Gay on 29 October 2014.
Following a preview session for Nostalgia at the beginning of September, Annie Lennox’s sixth studio album finally arrives for everyone else to hear. Her third covers album, this particular record finds the former Eurythmics vocalist putting her spin on a handful of famous numbers lifted from the Great American Songbook – though is it a worthwhile addition to her back-catalogue or an artistic indulgence?
With well-known songs like ‘I Put A Spell On You’ and ‘Summertime’ in the tracklisting (two of the album’s obvious highlights), it’s hard to go too wrong but also perhaps difficult to do something different with tracks that have been sung and heard so many times before. Lennox is fortunate enough to have a distinctive voice that means half the work is done. She may be almost 60, but her delivery still sounds just as great as it did back in the 80s during the height of her fame as part of Eurythmics.
Generally, the presentation of the songs is understated and Lennox’s voice is front and centre as the undeniable selling point. The often sparse arrangements dance pleasingly around the clarity of her performance. However, some of the reworkings are more successful than others; where ‘Strange Fruit’ tackles its dark subject matter with emotional sincerity and respect, ‘Mood Indigo’ is slightly meandering and stylistically jarring, feeling curiously shallow when compared to other tracks on the album.
When her voice is accompanied by a greater instrumental presence, it sounds equally great. The already released single ‘I Put A Spell On You’ is an obvious example, but ‘I Cover the Waterfront’ is another more embellished number, reminiscent of American jazz singer Stacey Kent.
As has been pointed out by some critics – and Lennox herself – all these songs were originally recorded by African-American artists, some touching on serious issues like racism and lynching, which means the Scot’s connection with some of the songs is occasionally not quite there. Nevertheless, as a seasoned professional, Lennox generally pulls it off thanks to an impressively emotive and nuanced delivery.
Perhaps a slight indulgence on Lennox’s part, but one she’s more than earned the right to, Nostalgia is an emotionally performed collection of timeless classics, elegantly reworked by a singer who manages to sprinkle them effectively with a little of her own magic.
Standout Tracks: ‘I Put A Spell On You’ / ‘Summertime’ / ‘I Cover the Waterfront’ / ‘You Belong to Me’