Be Yourself Tonight


RCA, 1985

REVIEW BY: Mark Millan


By the time Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart entered the studio to start working on what was to be the duo’s fifth studio album, they had a definite sound in mind. It would be a drastic change of direction for them and would possibly cause some dissention among their fan base. Over the course of their first four albums, the pair had firmly established themselves as one of the pioneering New Wave artists that were capable of making astonishingly creative and successful synth-laden singles like “Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This),” “Love Is A Stranger” and “Here Comes The Rain Again.”

Lennox also made for a striking vision, decked out in immaculately tailored suits with her hair cropped short and usually dyed a burnt orange. Annie used the androgynous look to great effect in taking on the conventions of the pop world. David Bowie had achieved a similar feat – if not a fleeting one, as only a true chameleon can – when he appeared in drag for the cover of his The Man Who Sold The World LP from 1970.

So, for album number five, not only would the band undergo a sonic transformation into a warmer, more soulful sound, Lennox would herself go through a similar change. She bleached her hair, and for the first time began performing in a sexier exclusively feminine wardrobe. The change in direction was not subtle or half-assed in any way, as Be Yourself Tonight opens with the thumping, relentless groove of “Would I Lie To You?” Stewart’s guitar is firmly tuned to rock and the synths have largely given way to a blasting horn section and heavy bass line. In fact, it was on this record that Stewart showed what a fantastic lead guitarist he is, and Lennox in turn proved that she had a set of pipes that could go toe-to-toe with the best of them.  my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The synths were back in for the second track, which has become one of the band’s most enduring hit singles (though it’s never really been a favorite of mine): “There Must Be An Angel (Playing With My Heart)” was a massive hit and helped to soften what was a very ambitious and bombastic album. The track features some absolutely beautiful harmonica work by Stevie Wonder, most of which was cut for the dreaded radio edit; so many great songs of the decade suffered this fate.

Another massive hit that featured on the record was carefully crafted and soul-infused “Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves.” The band brought in Aretha Franklin to duet with Annie after Tina Turner (whom Lennox had written it for) refused to sing it because she hated the lyrics and kept her promise to herself to never become a “message singer” (her words).  The lyrics are heavily contrived (“We’re coming out of the kitchen, ‘cause there’s something we forgot to say to you”), but Franklin had no such problem with them and went to town with her performance as the band gave her free reign to go anywhere she wanted. 

My favorite song on the album is “It’s Alright (Baby’s Coming Back),” which is a fantastic slice of ‘80s synth pop accented with the ever-present horn section. Lennox wrote one of her best lyrics for the track, and everything about it is perfectly done. The gentle “Conditioned Soul” from which the album’s title comes and the up-tempo strains of “Adrian” (featuring Elvis Costello doing his best to sound like Tom Petty for some reason) make for strong enough album cuts, as does the closer, “Better To Have Lost In Love (Than Never To Have Loved At All).” Apart from the chosen single, is probably the strongest song on the record. 

Annie and Dave would fully realize their “stadium soul-rock” sound on the road in support of this record. They added muscle to the band and then went on to make the full-blown transition on the follow-up to this disc, 1986’s Revenge. Be Yourself Tonight was so calculated and controlled that I feel it may have lost a little flair and originality in the process, but the stellar cast of players – including Heartbreakers Benmont Tench, Mike Campblell and Stan Lynch as well as Nathan East of Earth, Wind And Fire fame – that peppered these tracks with their expertise added lots of bump and grind to what could have been a flat and heavily formulaic affair.

Rating: B

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