The greatest music debuts of all time #9: Eurythmics are In The Garden

For the fourth year of the UK’s National Album Day, the powers that be have decided to spotlight female performers and their immeasurable contribution to music and culture through the art of the LP. From the earliest pioneers to present-day legends, the 2021 event highlights the integral role women play within the wider music community, not only as recording artists, but as songwriters, producers, and even as one half of a cross-border pop duo.

Revisiting iconic and influential albums certainly forces the nostalgia floodgates open, so this year I’ve chosen a remarkable if not obvious debut album that was issued the year I first started buying music but, alas, I didn’t personally own until a good five years after its release. Celebrating its 40th anniversary this is Eurythmics In The Garden.

The late 1970s and early 1980s were a period of enormous fast-track development in the musical landscape. The flood of cheap technology ensured that machines that went ping were now within everyone’s reach, and oh, how were they exploited.

Like punk itself, this electronic revolution had a way to go to reach critical mass until Britain brought synth duos to the masses as the old decade mutated into the new one. Enter OMD, enter Soft Cell and Blancmange*, enter the cultural dragon himself Damon Albarn?! For even the Colchester One had a go during his tentative pre-Blur period, in a band called Two’s a Crowd. Evidently.

Yet there was another of the formative crop of synth duos that had been soldiering away in relative obscurity while all sorts of similar bands (yoo-hoo Yazoo!) came along and swept up the charts.

Since breaking big with Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) in 1983, Eurythmics were ostensibly the subgenre’s platonic ideal, becoming had the most successful incarnation of what Smash Hits journalist Neil Tennant termed the Pervy Synth Duo, a deliciously subversive pop configuration of aloof keyboard operator and formidable lead vocalist that can be traced back to New York punk afterthoughts Suicide, or even earlier still with the mysterious Mael brothers delivering something for the boys and girls with everything in Sparks. 

For a start, the professional personas of Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart were both complementary and contrasting: From Aberdeen in Scotland, Lennox was the hyper-intense lyricist and voluble vocalist, all Grace Jones-like flexed biceps and spiky carrot-top. And tinkling away was Sunderland’s stone-faced Stewart, the loveable eccentric boffin in a whizkid world. If they were magicians of a different kind, they’d have been Penn and Teller.

And yet in the autumn of 1981 the first Eurythmics outing had virtually sank without a trace. Released the same third week of October as the Human League’s era-defining Dare**, In The Garden was an attempt to forge the duo’s distinct separate identity – ”a wink to Adam and Eve” – to that of Dave Stewart and Annie Lennox’s previous band, The Tourists, who’d imploded during an Australian tour the previous year. 

Irritated that the only thing people remembered them for was a solid if kitschy cover of Dusty Springfield’s I Only Want To Be With You, Lennox and Stewart junked their pastoral, parochial power pop for an immersion into the experimental European soundscapes of producer Conny Plank. Fortuitously, they were bolstered by a supporting cast that reads like a Who’s Who of German post-psychedelic rock, including Can’s Holger Czukay and Jaki Liebezeit, D.A.F.’s Robert Görl and even Stockhausen’s son.

Last but not least, there’s an additional band member in Angolophile American Clem Burke, then on hiatus from Blondie, who adds his trademark kinetic drumming that helps propel the material in wonderfully tempered form.

The result is a set of songs that are melancholy, mysterious and slightly menacing, and where Teutonic textures count for everything. Wrapped in the sonic world of blissed-out Eno era Roxy Music meets dream pop Krautrock, In The Garden is as much D&A’s Cologne album as “Heroes” is Bowie’s Berlin. In fact, they could’ve called it Im Garten and it would have made perfect sense. It certainly wouldn’t have made affected its non-existent chart fortunes any more than they were already. 

With an assortment of instruments twisting and tangling as if in an overgrown landscape, the mesmerising English Summer cooly sets the tone, and despite the title is anything but wet. Bursting through the speakers with Görl’s motorik pulse and an adornment of sparkly keyboards is the gnarly New Wave rocker Belinda, in which Lennox provides one of the earliest examples of her beautifully twinned vocal harmonies, perfectly imbuing the tone of kind reassurance offered in the lyrics.

The (broken) French-sung Sing-Sing is a hypnotic slice of Gallic charm, its off kilter quality bolstered by dubby Can-alicious bass-work that Japan’s Mick Karn would have been proud of, had he not been too busy cameoing up to Gary Numan… while the glacial Take Me To Your Heart adds a palpable avant-garde eeriness, mixing an anglo-reggae bass groove with fizzing, brittle synthesizer lines that that seem most certainly inspired by recent eclecticism of then label mate Bowie.

Preeminent single Never Gonna Cry Again — a No.63 non-hit earlier that July — takes a similarly spectral approach as Annie sounds like a dispassionate primordial goddess, even dusting off her trusty flute for a disarming solo that floats over Dave’s insistent Cantastic bass line.

Elsewhere, a few hints of the anthemic pop of The Tourists creep through in the majestic choruses of All The Young (People of Today) and Your Time Will Come, in which Annie paints a suggestive picture of the coming generation and a spooky yet moving ode to the chameleon-like woman who serves as the principal character of the album, respectively.

Evoking an atmosphere of dissonant dreamscapes, this solitary character’s neurosis is expounded upon brilliantly in the Kraftwerkian She’s Invisible Now, where Lennox’s ethereal vocals hover hauntingly above the song as she is reduced to repeatedly counting while the dust settles in around her as she single-handedly invents Goldfrapp twenty years too soon. 

Ominously, this woman grows darker and darker as the experiments grow ever more twisted – first as a disturbingly eager submissive sexual deviant in the primal bad humour titled Caveman Head and finally as a blood-thirsty menace who meticulously outlines her plan for vindication before erupting into bloodthirsty lust in the hazy show closer Revenge, the ecstasy billowing from her malevolent lips as she confesses, “I looooooove to see them suffer”! As deviously dark as all of it sounds, the intricate layers of music – a violent, jumpy bassline here, some space-age guitar and synth effects there – provide an inviting, intoxicating platform.

Despite the impressive satellite support, In The Garden is not always as ground-breaking as the material from which it draws its inspiration. Though, with a snootful of absinthe, it could probably aid in conjuring up one helluva trance. Where In The Garden excels is in revealing the multi-faceted and diverse talents of Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart in not only crafting atmospheric and evocative soundscapes but also in gelling well with collaborators.

For a group that had experienced a smidgeon of chart success in their previous incarnation, this markedly brave step toward pure artistic expression that was as cavalier as it was suicidal. Thankfully, they had the guts to keep at it, and as they found a signature sound and image over the growing pains of 1981 and 1982.

Four decades later, this remarkable debut stands up on its own merit as a more than simply a “lost” album, and the groundwork for their breakthrough was laid here with class and sophistication as it captures future New World conquerors paying homage to the modern sounds of the Old World. But while the indie-ish internationalisms and heroic disregard for commercial success wouldn’t last, In The Garden is the perfect reminder that this remarkable creative rebirth had only just begun. And how.

Steve Pafford 

*For a few short months at the turn of the decade, Blancmange actually started life as a trio with Laurence Stevens, who left in 1980 to concentrate on graphic design, becoming chief art director for Eurythmics in 1982 ie Love Is A Stranger onwards – making In The Garden the only D&A album he wasn’t involved at the time of release.

**Also released that same week: U2’s October, Bauhaus’s Mask and Bow Wow Wow’s See Jungle! See Jungle! Go Join Your Gang Yeah, City All Over! Go Ape Crazy!. One of my earliest purchases on CD, The Best of Blondie made it out the following week

 

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