|Pop Music Critic Advertisement||Cool Sting lulls 'em to sleep, while sultry Lennox woos 'em
July 20, 2004
BY JIM DEROGATIS Pop Music Critic Advertisement
Sting has dubbed his summer pairing with Annie Lennox "The Sex and Music Tour," a name that comes from a line in his typically bland adult-contemporary hit, "Sacred Love."
"There's no religion but sex and music," the former Gordon Sumner crooned at the opening of his set at the Tweeter Center on Sunday. But the 52-year-old singer's brand of sex appeal is ultimately as cold, lifeless, one-dimensional and artificial as an airbrushed Playboy centerfold.
In stark contrast, opener Lennox was a searing presence from the moment she stepped onstage through the end of her sultry and passionate 12-song set.
Sting and Lennox, who is about to turn 50, are a natural pairing for several reasons. The two London neighbors both made their names in superstar pop bands in the '80s -- the Police and the Eurthymics, respectively -- then went on to forge successful solo careers with new and decidedly adult sounds that continue to draw on their roots in black music, with Sting trading reggae for light jazz and Lennox remaining faithful to R&B.
For discerning listeners, Lennox's appearance was the much bigger treat. For one thing, the Scottish native tours much less frequently. More importantly, though, she offered a warmer, more sensual and more credible model for aging gracefully in the unforgiving world of pop -- for growing old without growing boring, pretentious or self-important.
Backed by an eight-piece band that included two keyboardists, two backing vocalists, guitar, bass and drums, resplendent in her blond buzz cut, purple jacket, leopard top and artfully torn jeans and moving with a lithesome, feline elegance, Lennox surveyed her two-decades-plus career.
Avoiding her Oscar-winning hit "Into the West" from "Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" and drawing more songs from 1992's "Diva" than last year's "Bare," she was less concerned with peddling her latest product than with taking listeners on an emotional roller coaster ride, and the set veered from quiet seductions to defiant statements of self-empowerment.
Lennox infused old favorites such as "Missionary Man" and "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" with fresh and fiery grooves, stopped the show with a soulful and distinctive cover of Bob Marley's "Waiting in Vain" and let her robust voice soar on solo material such as "Pavement Cracks," the opening "Legend in My Living Room" and "No More 'I Love You's.' "
The resulting performance drew connections to the themes and sounds common to all of her music -- from the synth-pop of the early Eurythmics to her current sophisticated blend of R&B and cabaret -- and underscored her position as one of the most distinctive and enduring stylists of her generation.
Meanwhile, Sting delivered a slightly retooled version of the show that he performed in the massive arena of Grant Park last October. Though he offered fewer hits by the Police and emphasized more of his snoozy solo material -- especially last year's ultra-slick "Sacred Love" -- the dichotomy was still jarring, with his recent cocktail-party fare thoroughly lacking the energy, conviction and humanity of his earlier work.
The shortcoming of recent Sting sounds found their visual analog in the silly videos that flashed behind his 10-piece band, depicting absurd scenes of a topless, Hula-Hooping fairy nymph, a gyrating belly dancer, fluttering fireflies and falling leaves that seemed to have been drawn from a cliched New Age screen saver program.
If this is the pinnacle of religion as sex and music, as Sting claims, then consider me an abstinent atheist.