Critical Voices: Annie Lennox, Nostalgia

October 22, 2014

Like any good hipster, Annie Lennox has brilliantly appropriated some of the most loved songs of all time for her new album, Nostalgia.

Over the course of her career, Lennox has proved her Midas touch. She has been known for her Eurythmics-era hits like “Here Comes The Rain Again” and the iconic “Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This).” Her solo career yielded “Walking on Broken Glass” and “No More ‘I Love You’s,’” which, let’s be honest, your parents probably have on CD.

Her latest album, Nostalgia, is a soaring, yet wistful compilation of jazz and blues covers, paying tribute to Duke Ellington’s syncopated world. Lennox’s vocals are flickering candles in a fall wind, resolute and sinuous, awakening a visceral resonance and crafting an individual nostalgia with every note sung.

While the album is an immense musical achievement, it removes these songs from their original context: their cultural resonance and importance within the American canon, as they depict the life of African-Americans.

Lennox’s interpretation of canonical social commentary doesn’t lend appropriate resonance to the selected works. “Summertime,” from Gershwin’s opera, Porgy & Bess, carries with it the weight of troubling and stereotypical representations of African-Americans, as well as its serving as a launchpad for black actors.

“Strange Fruit” is about lynchings throughout the U.S.; the strange fruit in the poplar trees are hanging corpses. The pain and struggle that these two songs represent are trivialized by Lennox’s covers. She shamelessly appropriates these songs which, while beautiful, are meant to convey much more than prettiness. They are anthems of a marginalized group of people who have suffered—and continue to suffer—in their own nation.

Say what you would like about the beauty of Lennox’s renditions, but, as a white person of Scottish descent, Lennox has not paid the cultural dues required to sensitively and suitably appropriate these works.

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