Annie Lennox’s ‘Diva’ Turns 20: Backtracking

Backtracking is our recurring look back at the pop music that shaped our lives. Friends may come and go, but we’ll be spinning our favorite albums forever.

When Annie Lennox released Diva, her first solo album, on April 28, 1992, there were no guarantees. She was a worldwide superstar after 12 years in Eurythmics, her hit-making group with Dave Stewart. But for every Morrissey leaping into his own legend after The Smiths, there’s a Boy George launching a solo career with… a drug bust? For Lennox, going out on her own wasn’t driven by a desire for more fame. At the age of 37, Lennox realized she couldn’t disappear: She needed to make music. Her newfound freedom galvanized her to say all that she wanted, unencumbered. “I’m not really missing [Dave] right now!” she joked to a TV interviewer.

These Are The Contents of My Head. If it weren’t for Adele’s recent success, it would be hard to imagine an artist in 2012 introducing a major album with a song as pensive as “Why.” Lennox has said she’s “very close to slow, sad, melancholic songs,” but there’s also something therapeutic about what she called the song’s closing rant: “This is how I feel. Do you know how I feel? ‘Cause I don’t think you know how I feel.” Though the lyrics were, in her own words, “a denouncement of things that had been applied to me,” they would become her most definitive personal statement and an international Top 10 hit.

Annie Lennox — “Why”

Everyone Of Us Was Made To Suffer. With Eurythmics, Annie Lennox always dealt in an edgy mix of melancholic lyrics set to swinging pop melodies; she loaded Diva with the same. For example, “Walking On Broken Glass”  is, quite literally, a joyous breakup song. “If you want to hurt me, you’re doing well, my dear” she sings as strings flutter up and down a hand-clapping beat. [Editor's note: Look out for Hugh “Dr. House” Laurie in the video.]

Annie Lennox — “Walking On Broken Glass”

The crazily passionate ballad “Cold” is another highlight. Moving from fearful (“dying is easy, it’s living that scares me”) to hairs-on-end passionate, it’s the best Prince song the tiny purple man never wrote.

Annie Lennox — “Cold”

Love Alone Might Do These Things For You. Diva wasn’t all morose. The elegant “Money Can’t Buy It”, with its manic rap about having too many diamonds, sounds like a ribbon around a grenade. The visual, part of a Diva video album directed by longtime associate Sophie Muller, is a testament to Lennox’s power as an artist of all media. Armed with only a bouquet of flowers, a mirror and a towel wrapped around her hair, her performance transfixes. “It’s very good for wrinkles,” Lennox said previously of the towel costuming, ever downplaying her arresting beauty.

Annie Lennox — “Money Can’t Buy It”

“Precious,” written for her first daughter, shimmers and struts at the same time, while the anthemic “Little Bird” defined empowerment as stomping disco soul: “Give me the strength to lay this burden down down down!” For the “Little Bird” video, Lennox cannily re-lit her own iconography among a preening chorus of drag queens dressed in various incarnations from her

Annie Lennox — “Little Bird”

These Are The Years We’ve Spent. Upon the album’s release, Lennox mused about the cheeky album title: “It’s quite an arrogant thing to take that name and put on yourself… but I do it with a smile.” She smiled all the way to the bank, too. Diva was a critical smash, winning the Brit for Album Of The Year and being nominated for the same award by The Grammys. It hit #1 in the UK and, though it peaked at #23 in the US, is still considered a blueprint for solo debut success. A line from “Cold” describes the heart and soul of this diva, 20 years on: “Everything I possess, given with tenderness.”

Can you believe Diva is 20? What’s your favorite memory of the album? Let us know below, or by hitting us up on Facebook and Twitter! And make sure to check out our other recent Backtracking features on En Vogue’s Funky Divas, Kylie Minogue’s Fever, Spice Girls’ Spice, Daft Punk’s Homework and No Doubt’s self-titled debut album.

  • Erika Brooks Adickman

    “Little Bird” is the best! “Little Bird” forever!

  • nathalie

    One of the best albums in the history of music!

  • Myrtle

    It was a classy debut solo album and the production was lush. However, how could Stephen Lipson create this masterpiece AND be responsible for the absolute toilet that was the 2001 Bare album? Only 1000 Beautiful Things and Pavement Cracks made it worth holding onto.

  • Paul

    Wonderful album. I listened to it for 15 years! And this time I continue it to do with pleasure… It speaks about one – Lennox real the actress which music excites heart and touches soul… Thanks!

  • Nancy

    @Myrtle…Are you freaking KIDDING me? Bare is an extraordinary album!!! Brilliant songwriting and consummately beautiful singing. And those things are due to Annie Lennox, not Stephen Lipson.

    ‘Diva’, ‘Bare’, and ‘Songs of Mass Destruction’ –all three of Annie’s solo albums — are masterpieces of songwriting and vocals. Most of the songs from these albums are on my list of greatest songs ever, and I’d never want to be without them!

  • veronika

    @ Myrtle: Re: Bare, this is what I remember from several interviews Annie has given over the years about that album: Apparently, there was a first version of Bare that was produced by Phil Manzanera of Roxy Music (Annie actually recorded several of the songs in Spanish. However, I’m not sure if Manzanera was only involved with the Spanish versions, or produced both the English and Spanish songs). At the mixing stage, Annie was not satisfied with the result – I seem to remember she made a comment that the songs sounded “superficial,” or something to that effect. She then started from scratch, this time with Stephen Lipson, and that’s what we know today as Bare.

    Around the time of the Annie Lennox Collection, she said that that whole era was really difficult because everything seemed to go wrong, from recording to promotion (including the videos…or lack thereof [she later released a performance video of Pavement Cracks, and maybe another one? I'm not sure...]). Perhaps, the album being done right after her divorce might have had something to do with that as well…

    I agree that the production is not the best, in my opinion, but maybe that’s related to all those problems mentioned above. However, in terms of composition, the album is stellar. The first thing I noticed when I first heard it was how COMPOSED the songs were, the equivalent of something done by hand, if you will. She’s one of the rare cases in popular music today of a solo artist who is musically trained and writes songs on her own. Not that the opposite is bad – what matters is the outcome no matter how many people were involved -, but you really see an artist’s imprint and compositional skills when they write solo. Although I wish the songs had had a better treatment production-wise, I don’t really mind how the album sounds because it’s satisfying for me in the compositional department.