Gleeful, acerbic, at times leaden, Savage is Eurythmics’ best record after 1983′s Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This). What support I hope to rally will probably number in the half dozen; outside the ghetto of eighties radio the duo just aren’t popular these days (inspect the devastating comments on Tom Ewing’s Freaky Trigger entry for “There Must Be An Angel…”), their albums denizens of budget bin, joined by other period David Stewart productions (Tom Petty’s Southern Promises, Daryl Hall’s 3 Hearts in the Happy Ending Machine, Feargal Sharkey’s debut). A shame: “period” is what Savage avoids. It’s as if Stewart and Annie Lennox recorded a small-minded electronic record as the followup to 1984′s Touch instead of the yuppie soul-nostalgia cryogenics of Be Yourself Tonight and Revenge, their stab at Glass Tiger arena rock.
Playing at times as if the songs were written to accompany their astonishing videos, Savage is most effective when Lennox, accessing her roots in the Graduate School of Advanced David Bowie Studies, rummages through a trunkful of feminine tropes: tramp, whore, Downing Street darling, abandoned lover. The spaces in the arrangements allow her room to breathe; no horns or soul sisters on this album. Opening with a string-damaged, art-damaged demo called “Beethoven (I Love to Listen To),” the first half of Savage never lets up: Lennox writhing and cooing at the memory of a lover in Timbuktoo (“Got my name for him/He’s my little guru”), enchanted by the idea of the not-at-all-rhetorical question in “Do You Want To Break Up?” and peaking with “You Have Placed a Chill in My Heart,” a song both twinkly and piledriving — an unlikely combination. Alarm bells ring when the title track’s patrician languor augurs the Jimmy Iovine-assisted adult contemporary cemetery that is 1989′s We Too Are One, not to mention Lennox’s solo career. Fortunately guaranteed karaoke killer “I Need a Man” boasts a performance with nary a bodice a sight and David Stewart’s whammy bar, sheathed for half an hour, everywhere. The second side is meh until “I Need You,” an acoustic number that mocks sincere acoustic numbers, especially when the band is predictable enough to place it at the end of a sequence for “maximum” effect (Stewart-Lennox almost kill the joke by including fake supper club din). Her voice never more plush and detached, as if Greta Garbo were feeling her way through English, sells the insincerity. “I need you to listen to the ecstasy I’m faking,” she sings, repeating the last two words for emphasis, advice she took with grinding literalism upon going solo.