Think of the iconic images of the musical landscape in 1980s Britain, and its likely you’ll come up with the usual suspects. Madonna dancing around Venice in a wedding dress for sure, Frankie Goes To Hollywood outraging all and sundry perhaps, Boy George confusing parents all over the land certainly.
Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart also deserve their place in the pantheon of great musical acts from that decade. The stylish duo looked and sounded like they’d been beamed in from another planet, with Lennox’s androgynous looks and beautiful voice making the perfect foil for Stewart’s state of the art production techniques.
Lennox and Stewart weren’t just masters of the image however, they knew how to write a classy pop song. They produced a string of hits throughout the 80s that, thanks to the retro-stylings of bands such as The Bravery and The Killers, still sound fresh today as they did back then.
The Ultimate Collection, although basically a repackaging of 1991’s Greatest Hits, is a fine reference point for exploring just why Eurythmics became such a well loved and enduring pop group. Most of the band’s singles are included here (apart from their theme to the film version of 1984, Sex Crime, which is no big loss) and demonstrate perfectly how the duo evolved from their early days.
Those early days are represented by tracks such as Love Is A Stranger, Sweet Dreams and Who’s That Girl – all of which sound utterly timeless here. The cold, rather aloof synth sound is balanced nicely by Lennox’s wonderful vocals and emotion laden lyrics. Who’s That Girl is a tale of paranoid and jealously delivered perfectly by Lennox, while Sweet Dreams is an acknowledged classic, a shimmering masterpiece that proves impossible not to sing along with.
One reason that Eurythmics were so enduring though was the fact that their sound was constantly evolving and developing. Mid-period tracks such as Would I Lie To You and Missionary Man were fast-paced rockers, the former being enlivened and enhanced no end by its terrific horn section.
There were also elements of soul and RnB, especially on the storming Aretha Franklin duet Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves and the joyous There Must Be An Angel (featuring an absolutely extraordinary vocal performance from Lennox). Even when they returned to the synth sound, there was still passion and emotion there – witness It’s Alright (Baby’s Coming Back) for a prime example.
Although the duo’s comeback album Peace in 1999 didn’t particularly replicate the glory days, it did contain one stunning song, I Saved The World Today, which is a welcome addition to the Ultimate Collection. Used to particularly haunting effect in one episode of The Sopranos, it’s a lovely, soaring ballad, delivered with expertise by Lennox. It’s certainly up there with their best material.
As is the case with Greatest Hits albums these days, the album is bookended by two new tracks, I’ve Got A Life and Was It Just Another Love Affair – both are pleasant enough, although they inevitably pale alongside the other bona fide classics on offer here.
The Eurythmics revival looks likely to go into overdrive this month with all of their eight previous albums being remastered and reissued with extra tracks, and an exhibition dedicated to their cover art being held in London. For a timely reminder of what has made them of Britain’s truly great pop groups, look no further than the Ultimate Collection.