Annie Lennox’s ‘Diva’ Turns 20: Backtracking

Stephen Sears | April 27, 2012 6:00 am

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 career.

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.