04 January 1983
I’ll skip the part where I’m flabbergasted that this album is 37 years old today and jump straight to telling you that I hated the title track when it came out. It wasn’t until I saw the video for “Love Is A Stranger” that I liked any Eurythmics singles and it wasn’t until 1985’s Be Yourself Tonight that I appreciated them as album artists. A lot changes in 37 years, though, including personal tastes, and last year I went on a binge where I collected all the expanded rereleases from the Eurythmics catalog.
“Love Is A Stranger” opens the album and the synth lines and programmed four-on-the-floor beat are instantly recognizable, familiar, nostalgic, and comforting. It also sweeps me back to seeing that amazing video, Annie stunningly gorgeous in her incognito blonde glamour wig, riding in the back of her limo… she appears sweet, wholesome, and vulnerable at the beginning of the video and at the end of the first chorus she tears off her wig and that austere, severe Annie Lennox fierceness is on full display. I still love that video and it marks the beginning of my fandom with this band. Dave Stewart’s production skills are not to be dismissed, either, as this whole album was recorded in an 8-track studio.
“I’ve Got An Angel” mirrors the emotional impact of the video for “Love Is A Stranger.” It starts with Annie’s angelic, almost operatic vocals reciting the song’s title, lulling the listener into a sense of serenity. Then the song turns dark, Lennox switching to a basso rumble as she chants “The power of imagination goes right to my head,” and “It’s time, it’s time, it’s time to kill.” It’s almost startling.
“Wrap It Up” is pure New Wave synth-pop. Not that the whole album isn’t New Wave synth-pop but while I love this song it doesn’t compete with the best tracks on the album. I do like Stewart’s experimentalism on this tune, incorporating synthetic steel drums and synthesized growls to counterpoint Lennox’s multi-layered vocals. It occupies a soft spot because it features Green Gartside duetting with Annie and Scritti Politti has always been one of my favorite acts.
Musically, “I Could Give You (A Mirror)” is indistinguishable from period Depeche Mode – it would fit perfectly on Construction Time Again and no one would bat an eye. But Annie approaches this as a straightforward pop singer, foreshadowing the strength of her voice on future solo outings like Medusa and 2007’s Songs Of Mass Destruction and it makes for a stunning song that could have easily charted as a single.
“The Walk” was a single, but I have no recollection of hearing it back in 1983. Again, David A. Stewart’s production takes center stage, layering Annie’s vocals, mixing in electric piano and synthetic horns. It’s mind-boggling to me that he was able to create such a huge sounding song working with just eight tracks.
Track 6 – what would have been the start of Side 2 in ‘83 – is the worldwide smash and title track. One of the biggest and most instantly recognizable hits of the decade, “Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)” sets synthetic symphonics to a march tempo, the sweetness of the strings in sharp juxtaposition to the beat’s urgency, all nearly overshadowed by Annie’s soaring vocals. It’s only when Stewart breaks things down and layers the chorus over just the 4×4 drumbeat that it is apparent just how stark and militant the song really is.
“Jennifer” is a pretty, minimalist tune that relies on Annie to carry the melody over surf sounds and a slowly chugging bassline. The song has a feeling of loss and longing, asking, “Jennifer, where are you tonight?” It takes a chilling and tragic turn on the bridge when she chants softly, “Underneath the water… underneath the water…” If “I Could Give You (A Mirror)” sounds like Construction era Depeche Mode, “Jennifer” feels like a precursor to their Black Celebration era.
It turns out that “This Is The House” was also a single and it is a very odd choice for one. This sounds more like something that could have come off of their debut In The Garden, more experimental than anything else on Sweet Dreams. It starts with mariachi horns and spoken word en Español before breaking into a propulsively funky bass track. The horns and Spanish spoken-word bits pop up again and again throughout the song and, honestly, it doesn’t really work very well, but I still really dig the song, in part because of its creepy weirdness.
“Somebody Told Me” is a return to the dreamy sounds of “Jennifer” and is all about the vocals. There is virtually nothing in the way of music here, just a stomping, insistent beat and a sparse, intermittent piano line throughout most of the song. Snippets of guitar and synth are mixed in for brief moments and then drop out again. The song seems to be building toward a roaring crescendo and then, with 30 seconds left, everything cuts out, leaving just the drumbeat, a synth line, and Annie chanting “Oh, well…” until the song ends.
The longest song on the album is also the last. “This City Never Sleeps” is more fully fleshed out than most of the tracks on Sweet Dreams and, as such, is able to convey an atmosphere with just the music. It has become, for me, a sister-song to Phil Collins’s “In The Air Tonight,” another classic that conjures a mood all by itself. At over six-and-a-half minutes and with no verses or melodic structure in the second half, “This City Never Sleeps” should feel too long, or like it has overstayed its welcome by the time we reach the four-minute mark, but it draws you so deeply into its own setting that you barely realize time is moving until the song ends and you snap out of it.
The expanded edition includes a smattering of outtakes and remixes which are hit-and-miss; it’s easy to see why the outtakes were taken out, but I’m fond of them nonetheless. There’s nothing bad about them but they aren’t up to par with the album tracks.
It is such a joy to revisit old classics like Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This), to take an hour out of a day and listen to the disc front-to-back uninterrupted. It is also fun to listen harder, closer, and break the songs down into their components. This album is interesting for me because even though the title track was ubiquitous and lingers today, still cropping up in tv ads and movies, I only got the disc in the past few years so it’s not one that I grew up with even though it feels like it was always there and the sound of the record is pure nostalgia. It is unusual to come to an album so late in life and yet still feel a lifelong bond to it. I recommend revisiting this one and see if it doesn’t hit you the same way.
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