With so many of the current crop of “electroclash” bands using the Eurythmics (among others) as a template, the time is ripe for Annie Lennox to return. As part of an intimate theater tour previewing “Bare” (J), her first album of original material in more than a decade, Lennox left her imitators in the dust, replacing the chill electronics of her 1980s work for the womanly, flesh and blood ache of soul music.
Stepping onto the stage in black pants, a black leather coat and a black watch cap, looking like the world’s most stylish second story man, Lennox delivered a program that was as sublimely dark and sexy as her outfit.
The songs are draped in rich layers of keyboards and synths, with drummer Steve Barney and bassist Paul Turner hanging just behind the beat. It’s a recipe for torchy elegance, and the songs certainly have the rueful undertone of cabaret. But Lennox, her voice strong but tart, holding the memory of every disappointment and lonely night, tends to phrase in front of the beat, pulling the songs forward. Together, they generate a sensual urgency that’s resolved when the songs kick into high gear. “Legend in My Living Room” nods toward Marvin Gaye’s classic ’70s work (down to the “mercy me” chorus), while “Pavement Cracks” starts out smooth but end up with a jittery Arabic refrain.
It’s blue-eyed soul written for and by adults; even material from her Eurythmics days is re-imagined. “Here Comes the Rain” is turned into an abject ballad; “Sisters (Are Doing It for Themselves)” becomes gospel testimony as Lennox trades verses with her backing singers, and “Who’s That Girl” could have been an early Gamble and Huff production. Even “Sweet Dreams” is rearranged, with guitarist Tony Remy taking the opening riff.
As if to prove she hasn’t forsaken her roots, for the encore, Lennox comes out in full rock mode. “I Need a Man” and “Missionary Man” get swaggering, full throated readings, with Lennox lustily swinging her mikestand, leaving the stage with a triumphant flourish. Returning for a final “Why” she stood, her eyes rimmed with tears, expressing gratitude for the aud’s ovation. The song might end with her moaning “you don’t know how I feel,” but at the end of the two-hour show, everyone felt the same — emotionally wrung out, but satisfied.