In 1990, the Eurythmics, a new wave duo who had hits all through the previous decade, informally dissolved. Annie Lennox, the Scottish singer-songwriter who made up half of the band, took a few years off from the music industry, partly due to the birth of her eldest daughter.
Thankfully, she didn’t stay away for long. In 1992, she released her first solo album: Diva. More along the lines of soul pop than actual pop pop, Diva lets Lennox show off her voice and her songwriting talent. She’s amazing at this sort of genre, drawing out pathos and emotion from every note for a beautifully polished finish.
Diva is an odd album: since it’s the early 1990s, the musical stylings of the 1980s haven’t entirely vanished, lingering on in synthesizer stylings and percussion backings. Songs like “Money Can’t Buy It,” with it’s 1980s synths and it’s 1990s percussion, straddle the two decades giving the album a bit of a beautifully schizophrenic feel. Still, Diva mostly manages a deft mix between the two genres, as the 1980s stylings of her previous work in the Eurythmics expertly blend with her venues into more of a melodramatic, soulful style. It’s occasionally jarring, but never awkward or out of place.
The word ‘diva’ technically means ‘a distinguished female singer, usually operatic’. However, the term carries a whole host of connotations; a diva is demanding, commanding, and overdramatic. You can tell that Lennox was trying to project that image straight from the album cover, where Lennox peers at the viewer from an over the top and slightly ridiculous feathered headdress. But if any song off of Diva is the diva song, it’s “Walking on Broken Glass,” the third single released from the album. This is the diva song, the big important showstopping single. Everything is so dramatic. Those dramatic strings, Lennox pulling as much emotion out of phrases as she can, Lennox takes this song and the song’s beautiful pathos up to eleven. These lyrics are also pure diva: “the sun’s still shining in the deep blue sky / but it don’t mean nothing to me.” This is so over the top and so overdramatic but the happy tone and major key stop it from going full tilt early 2000s emo pop angst. Also the video is amazing: Dangerous Liaisons mixed with Blackadder mixed with a soap opera (John Malkovich and Hugh Laurie, the stars of both of those pieces of media, appear in the video). A perfectly melodramatic video for a perfectly melodramatic song.
While the album has plenty of highs, it also has plenty of slower moments. Songs like “Why” and “Stand By Me” are calmer, as Lennox shows off her vocal prowess by taking things incredibly slow. She’s amazing at these languid, slow, drawn-out sort of melodies where she can take one phrase and stretch it out over literal measures. Her voice lilts through various phrases as the backing line is wisely restrained, letting her vocals take the spotlight. These tilt more to the soul aspect of soul pop as Lennox wails and laments over these blues-ish backings, letting her vocals take the show.
All in all, Diva is an amazing solo debut album. It shows Lennox’s strengths as a singer and a songwriter, proving to the world that she doesn’t just have an amazing voice, but has an in-depth knowledge of how to write songs that fit it perfectly.