I will always remember the fist time I heard ‘ You have placed a chill in my heart’ . I was 17, arriving at college, listening to the record on tape on a cheaper version of a Walkman. For a moment my awkward self-conscious left me, as walking round with earphones on in public made me feel odd and ill at ease, like everyone was staring at me in my pathetic attempt to look cool ( never figured that one out) . The song swept me up from the moment Annie’s voice trilled the opening notes ‘ Ah ha ah ah ah ha….’ , the incessant rhythm of the drums, the pure electonica of the keyboards and god knows what other clever gizmos they used to create that driving melody , and then the chorus – accusing, plaintive, angry and yet somehow elating, all at the same time! By this point my brain had exploded and I wandered around the college refectory in a daze as the song ripped into the verses- wordy, complex, incessant and sang with such passion and drama. For a very confused and troubled young man it was like -‘Yes this is it, this is perfect, everything I want from Annie and Dave’ and encapsulating my own discordant state of mind at the time. I was moved almost to tears by the pop perfection and drama of the the song. In a way it ‘ chill’ fairly sums up the sound and feel of the whole Savage record, and how I felt at the time about its release, and how, 25 years later, I still feel.

No one can make a perfect work of art, but in terms of pop music and the place of Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart’s contribution to the said form, Savage comes very close for most of the fans who love the more experimental side of their work. Let’s start from the top- the title. Savage. Perfect, what a statement. It sounds good, it looks good , it sets out the stall.Then the images of Annie- the cover of the record. Again, stunning and disturbing, and kind of what a lot of us love with Annie- the dressing up , the character, the sheer photogenic charisma she has that draws you in. Then of course the music itself. I won’t do a track by track discussion but from the opening song and video – which I have to admit left me startled, unsure and disturbed in equal measure- we know this is not a record of compromise, of record company marketing and world tour plans. It is a sign of how much the industry has changed that the whole concept came off . A video of every song, no discernible ‘ big hit’ and no tour!?

I love Savage. I love the sound, it’s coolness, the way the mix of Annie’s voice blends with the sonic accompaniment of sequencers, keyboards, alienated guitars, submerging and pulling out beautiful vocal harmonies, or bleak bitter gasping and edgy singing, often within the same song. It’s a record to listen to late at night, with earphones, eyes shut, from start to finish. Savage submerges you in a world of discord, anger, grief, violence and pain. Yet the sound can be alluring, Annie’s harmonies angelic whilst decrying loneliness, and Dave’s guitar  echoing grieving keyboards and mesmerizing rhythms that remind you the blues are only a scratch away from the supposed lush life of  cosmopolitan  Europe. 

And this is the key theme for me of the entire record, it holds a mirror up to what has become of modern Western consumerist society. ‘ Get it on credit if you need some more’ – love, sex, drugs, fashion, being in with the in crowd, whoring yourself or others, whatever it takes to get ahead, to get what you want, what you desire. Or what you think you desire. As the incredible video album attempts to show, especially with the two key songs on the record, as far as I am concerned, Shame and Savage, the promise of love, sex, glamour, ‘ the lifestyle – of painted lips’ is a sham. Both these sings and the video work for them are beautiful and unsettling at the same time. ‘ Shame’ draws you in with spangling bells, like a summoning to church, then presents you with the bitter truth. It’s all a sham- and Annie an Dave know it because they have seen it from the inside. The promise of post war society has melted into an orgy of materialism and vanity. What’s left is a world of painted trash, ‘Savage’ the song and video are possibly , for me, the most harrowing and powerful pieces of work by Dave and Annie. The music is sublime in its bleakness and sadness, the guitars eery and unrelenting, and along side Annie’s voice, hypnotic and signaling your/our doom. Lyrically obscure and yet with a clear intent and meaning, Annie’s vocal is devastating, and leaves no where to go. The video is hard to watch, both mesmerizing and alarming at the same time. 

What I find most powerful about the record though, is its resonance for today and the state of the cultural landscape. Almost like soothsayers Annie and Dave conjured up in those intense months in France, a bleak statement of the shape of things to come. Rather than being a commentary on  their present ,Savage, it turns out, was a warning from history of the world to come. Annie as painted tart, grasping for love, fame, or declaiming the perilous and confusing state of female identity and power, as well as the comodification of  love and personal meaning, was looking into the future. Savage 25 years on , welcome to your world.’