In a case of bungled marketing, the new British film version of "1984" is appearing in America a year late. But Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart, the Eurythmics, made sure their sound-track album -- "1984 (For the Love of Big Brother)" -- arrived here before the New Year. This sound track -- free of pop and film-score constraints -- refines the Eurythmics' method with hypnotic effect.
"1984" (RCA, ABL1-5349) avoids the foolhardy temptation to compress George Orwell's narrative into three-minute snippets; instead the aural properties of Lennox's voice and Stewart's synthesizers are contrasted to re-create the novel's sense of tension and terror. As on previous records, the Eurythmics have pitted the unpredictable vitality of Lennox's soprano against the imposing certainty of Stewart's music machines.
On the album's first single, "Sexcrime," Lennox sings sweetly of a romantic scene while Stewart's synthesizers pound away in the background like air hammers and paper shredders. The title word is then broken in two and bounced between the left and right speakers until the two halves collide and re-create it. The song structure finally disintegrates, leaving Lennox scat-singing amid Stewart's atom-smashing dance beats and the distorted groan, "Nineteen-eighty-four."
They create a similar feeling on "I Did It Just the Same," even though Lennox never sings any words, just throaty syllables. As with most of the album, this cut has a staggered, synthesized dance groove that makes the tension physical as well as intellectual.
Only once do the Eurythmics mimic Orwell's "newspeak," and the gimmicky monologue on "Doubleplusgood" makes it the record's weakest cut. Far more often, they musically translate the novel: "Ministry of Love" turns the bureaucratic distortion of romance into African chants combined with pulsing computer loops; "Room 101" re-creates the rat-cage torture scene through Stewart's blues guitar and Lennox's shouts, building to an almost unbearable crescendo.
The best cut is the one most like a conventional song. "For the Love of Big Brother," a moody ballad, features Lennox singing mournfully of the elusiveness of love against a rumbling beat. When she sings, "Even though there's no one, dark shadows move across the wall," punchy female vocals mock her, "Yeah, Yeah. Yeah, Yeah." It would be a great song on any album.
To appreciate the Eurythmics' achievement, one need only listen to the Planet P Project's "Pink World" (MCA, 2-8019), an anti-utopia concept album that is as clumsy as the Eurythmics' "1984" is inspired.
Tony Carey, who wrote the double album and performed almost all of it himself, draws on his background in British art-rock to puff up his silly, apocalyptic story with pomp and bombast. His producer and coarranger, Peter Hauke, adds the Wagnerian overkill of German synth-rock to make the project even more overblown.
Here's the story: When a 7-year-old boy named Artie drinks from a polluted stream behind a small factory, he develops the "pink" power. He can live forever, see the future and move or destroy objects with his thoughts. He becomes an enigmatic celebrity ("A Boy Who Can't Talk") and attracts a mass, cultlike following, the Artemites.
Artie foresees the coming nuclear apocalypse and creates a safe zone behind a force field barrier for his followers. As they huddle inside, they watch cruise missiles destroy the rest of the world. The "zone" turns out to be a less-than-perfect utopia, however; omnipresent cameras and thought police make it more than a bit like Orwell's 1984, with Artie as Big Brother. Then one day both Artie and the barrier disappear, leaving behind only a pink puddle and a baby in a basket.
It takes some effort to extract this story line from Carey's songs, which often seem like excerpts from a longer opera that must contain the missing connections. It takes even more effort to care about the story at all. Carey sings as if he were improvising his reaction to a pet dog's death in his first-ever acting class. When he isn't throwing every studio effect into a grandiose orchestration, he's drawing out a "sensitive" guitar or piano arpeggio to ludicrous lengths.
And yes, the album is pressed on pink plastic.