With the breeze of a British invasion backlash on their necks and radio's rejection of the single "Sexcrime (Nineteen Eighty-four)" still fresh in their memory, Annie Lennox and David A. Stewart have prudently performed a little cosmetic surgery on their sound for Be Yourself Tonight. This is Eurythmics at their most upbeat, paying homage to Sixties American soul and British pop. On the stomping single "Would I Lie to You?" they even manage an uncharacteristically gritty blend of the two, with Kinky guitars jittering over a vintage Supremes drum slap.
But even though the velvety-voiced Lennox belts her heart out, she still has trouble conveying warmth and spontaneity — she simply ain't got no soul. At best, Lennox is a skillful mimic; on Be Yourself Tonight her every trill and ululation is pure Aretha Franklin. Producer-cowriter Stewart does a few impersonations himself; his hum-along melody and chattering synth backing track for "There Must Be an Angel (Playing with My Heart)" borrows unabashedly from Stevie Wonder's "I Just Called to Say I Love You." Then, as if Lennox and Stewart had conjured him by sheer will, Wonder himself suddenly appears to add a winsome harmonica solo. Soon after that — presto! — Aretha Franklin materializes for the album's other natural hit, "Sisters Are Doin' It for Themselves" (which might have leaped intact from Lady Soul). And perhaps only Aretha, the essence of sisterly community and assertive sexuality, could have transformed Lennox' unintentionally kitschy lyrics about "the conscious liberation of the female state" into such an earthy ode to independence. Although Lennox deserves credit for humanizing her lyrics, it's Aretha's sly, sassy performance that makes "Sisters" this year's "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" and "She Bop" rolled into one.
"It's Alright — (Baby's Coming Back)" simmers like an outtake from Dusty in Memphis, but alas, guest-star lightning doesn't strike thrice — it's only Lennox doing her Springfield imitation (which dates to the Tourists' remake of "I Only Want to Be with You"). Still, her kittenish languor makes this the most compelling track on side two, which, despite a guest appearance by Elvis Costello, reverts to formula Eurythmics: impenetrably layered, repetitive numbers that drone on too long and leave napping listeners in their wake. And that's the irony of Be Yourself Tonight; its most enticing moments are the ones in which Eurythmics pretend to be someone else.
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