The Ghosts in Her Machine


By Aaron Hicklin

Annie Lennox's fourth solo album may not be her best (that accolade belongs to 1992's Diva), but thanks in part to 'Sing,' her much-ballyhooed collaboration with Madonna, C'line Dion, and Gladys Knight, among others, it may be her most ambitious. The opener, 'Dark Road,' and its immediate successors ('Love Is Blind,' 'Smithereens,' and 'Ghosts in My Machine') represent some of her strongest offerings to date, her brooding introspection tempered with spry, robust melodies. In one of her few interviews for the U.S. press for this album, the 52-year-old singer discusses her process, the problem with men, and why we need to care more about Africa.

Out: How do you feel when you look back at the Annie of 25 years ago?

Annie Lennox: 'It's quite intense, it's a hell of a journey, a load of work, and a lot of aspirations to achieving things, artistically, and in all kinds of ways that now, I just think, How the hell did we as the Eurythmics ever do that? It took me a while to assess the whole thing, to take stock of it, and I started to do that about four years ago. I had this warehouse that was all full of awards and disks and things, and I took it upon myself to start to be accountable for these things and got them out of their bubble wrap and their dusty filthy whatever, and it was a kind of clearing, symbolically, because I'd never really thought much about it. An artist is always going on to the next, it's always more interesting -- next, next, next -- what's done is done and you're on to the next. At that point I thought I'd like to take stock of everything, take photographs of everything and put it on a Web site that will launch hopefully in October called Annie Lennox: The House of Me'and it is a house, and the rooms will enable you to see all the things that used to be wrapped in bubble wrap under dust, things that I didn't used to think about very much. I love the idea of a virtual world that you can step into; there's your life's work, there's the body of it, and you can keep adding to it, and I find that really interesting.

And for Annie junkies, even more of an insight into your life and work.

Definitely an aspect of it. No one -- unless they're my really close friend -- can really know me, any more than I can really know anyone else. That's what's so interesting about our existence: How well do you actually know a person? People assume they know me, but actually it's my projection. I never got into anyone myself in that kind of way; I love people's work, but I'm not obsessively interested in the minutiae.

But I think there's a dichotomy there for all musicians and especially musicians like you. Your music is so emotive that listeners are inevitably going to create a relationship with you because of it.

That's dead interesting because I was just with someone earlier today -- a lovely guy called Jason who comes to fix my computer when it goes down -- and he said, 'Oh, I forgot about who you are as Annie Lennox; I see you as a human being.' [laughs]. I said, 'Thank god for that.' Very few people would ever have that experience, of others not quite seeing them as human, but then I would feel that way of other artists too, because I'm a bit in awe of other artists, but nevertheless it's terribly important to be a human being.

From this perspective it seems there will always be at least two Annies: public Annie, the Annie of the music, and the private Annie.

The thing that I didn't buy into was the celebrity industry, but I've tried as much as I can to stay beneath the radar, because I can see that is a really odd place to be, and people seem to want it, and they want it for the wrong reasons. They yearn for this so-called celebrity-dom, but they have nothing to offer behind them, so it's just them -- it's just them wearing a dress, or it's them showing up at a party, or it's them having their pubic hair photographed as they're getting out of a limousine, and I'm like, 'Shit, that is scary, I don't like that.' I see that as a goldfish bowl that doesn't appeal to me, and the only reason for it is because it makes money. That's the only reason: money. The idea of celebrity for celebrity's sake and not driven by real talent in a sense. No artistry or social commentary or intelligence or creativity or anything else. It's what Warhol predicted all those years ago, and we're getting it back in spades, and we're getting it back because we're asking for it. We're feeding the monster, and it's built on people's lack of self-worth, inferiority, and they are looking to others, and at the same time they desire their downfall. It's a slightly sick phenomenon, I think.

With all your albums, I often feel like I'm in one of your therapy sessions, and if they find an audience that's great, but they're really songs written for yourself.

I can't write a song for an audience, because I don't know how to do that, so it's an expression of one's innermost feelings, but at the same time it's universal. Life is paradoxical. I can be intensely private and incredibly open at the same time, and I can also be very straightforward and very complicated, or I could be an immensely dark person and at the same time have so much light potential. It's not that people are hypocrites, it's that we contain these contradictions.

Although listening to your music I get the feeling that you find more of your material in pain as opposed to pleasure. At one point you quite literally scream, 'Come and take this pain away'.

Yes, well I'm struggling with it. I think everyone struggles with pain, and I think somehow externalizing it transforms it into something of beauty and power.

In contrast to your last album, Bare, the melodies themselves seem more upbeat and that creates a great tension with the lyrics. It's very compelling.

It's weird, but I started to discover that I had another aspect to my voice that I hadn't encountered before, and it was kind of more open or raw, and it made me feel that I was almost channeling deep Mississippi Delta blues, or some kind of spiritual place, very black, real black African. It's something in me, and it comes out of me, but I'm white and I'm not pretending, but that's the place where I feel most authentic, when I'm singing like that.