Why Annie Lennox is ready to move on

Annie Lennox's new album, a best-of, will be her last with Sony.
Annie Lennox has incredible eyes.

They’re a translucent blue-green, both kind and inviting in one glance, then piercing and all-knowing in another. At 54, Lennox’s orbs are as captivating today as they were when they stared at us from under that fiery orange crew cut in the music video for the Eurythmics hit “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).” That was 1983. Yes, Lennox’s Eurythmics days seem like a lifetime ago for the Scotland-born singer-songwriter, especially when you consider the successful solo career she’s enjoyed since her partnership with Dave Stewart. It’s that body of work — songs like ‘Why” and “No More ‘I Love You’s’ ” that are showcased on her newest album, “The Annie Lennox Collection.” It’s Lennox’s fifth solo outing, and her final album with her record label of 30 years, Sony Music Entertainment. “It’s like a demarcation line in a way because there is that body of work to look back on in retrospect,” says Lennox. “And the future is ahead of me and that’s very interesting because I’m really not sure exactly what that’s going to mean logistically … how that’s going to pan out. But I’m very excited about it because of Internet technology.” Lennox, who’s won Grammys, BRIT Awards and an Academy Award (for co-writing “Into the West” from “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”), says she’s become somewhat of a voracious blogger, using her MySpace page and official Web site not only as a repository for her musical work, but also to lend a voice to her humanitarian efforts. In 2007, Lennox formed the SING Campaign, a nonprofit initiative to help fight the HIV pandemic in Africa.

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The initiative has its own anthem, called “SING,” which features vocals from Madonna and Celine Dion among others, and is included on Lennox’s new album. She also recorded two new tracks to celebrate the release, one a cover of Irish band Ash’s hit song “Shining Light.” “It’s one of those incredible anthemic songs that just stay with you,” she says. “It’s like when you heard Jeff Buckley’s version of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah.’ It’s almost like a revelation when you hear it.” Lennox spoke to CNN about tapping into her inner divas to make those theatrical music videos, the pitfalls of fame and why she celebrates her naiveté. CNN: Who is your “shining light” Annie Lennox: Ordinary people who don’t necessarily have the spotlight shone on them, who do extraordinary things. Those people always inspire me. A lot of people that are working in nongovernmental organizations inspire me very much, because I think those people are really risking life and limb to make a difference to people’s lives in really impossible circumstances. And they really give me the sense that if they can do that, I can do something, too. CNN: How do you feel about where you are in life right now Lennox: Of course now I’m in that middle-age place, age-wise, and youth is no longer really something that I’m a part of anymore. And that started happening for me when I was about 40, to be honest with you. I had my kids and my focus went elsewhere. And I think I’ve changed so much through having children … inside myself. It’s been a kind of evolution and a maturity. And that has informed the SING Campaign a lot, because my focus is really on women. … I understand what it is for a woman to want to protect their children and give them the best they can. And so I identify with that. … I can let go of some of the things I was maybe focused on when I was younger and I’m focused on different things. CNN: Over the years your music videos have served as an outlet to explore different personas. Is that a cathartic experience for you Lennox: Performance feels quite cathartic, to be honest with you. It’s a good feeling. And songwriting is cathartic because you have something you want to express. … Ultimately when you’ve completed that songwriting process there is a sense of yes … completion. It’s out. It’s expressed. It’s done. And then you can communicate it to other people in performance. CNN: You come across as extremely fearless in your videos. Yet you’ve said as a person you’re quite shy. You don’t seem shy to me. Lennox: No I’m not shy right now, but I can be quite shy. It depends on the circumstances. … Shyness is actually quite crippling. When one is shy it’s not helpful. But a lot of being on stage has given me that opportunity to go beyond my normal persona. CNN: Which music video are you most proud of Lennox: Quite a few. I think that “Broken Glass” is just … it’s hilarious. A lot of the things I do have got humor in them. But the fact that we had John Malkovich who came in and Hugh Laurie who was there … we had a big cast. CNN: A lot of your songs are about pain and failed relationships. Do you still feel that you have a lot to learn about love Lennox: I think we all do. I think the world needs to be a far more loving place. And I think we are confused between erotic love [and] unconditional love. I think our sexuality is a very different thing from our love. … We are a society fixated with sexuality and it can be very cruel. When the love, and the respect and the consideration [are] missing, people live very isolated existences. CNN: What has fame taught you Lennox: I think fame for fame’s sake is a very toxic thing. … And people in this society have this idea that they wanna be famous, and they don’t know what for. And they pursue “celebrity” for itself. I would say that without something to offer, whether it be that you’re an actor, you have a craft, you have something to offer people, if you’re a writer, a painter, a musician … when it’s just about you and your actual life it’s a little bit cannibalistic. The industry of celebrity is quite a savage one and when you fall foul of it, and your privacy is so brutally invaded … you may be having difficulties in your own life as we all do … and all the images of you, your dogs, your children, the inside of your house … they’re all splattered across every front page, I think that’s [a] very unhealthy place to be. And I think it’s sad that people caught it so vociferously. CNN: Well you obviously raised two children. How difficult was it to shield them from your fame Lennox: It hasn’t been too difficult. Part of my work is public, but I make a distinction between that and who I am as a person in private. … I was very careful that … I wasn’t telling stories to gossip papers, and showing my life and [my children] were gently kept away from that. CNN: Fame also serves as a useful platform, and you’ve been very involved with various charities, notably HIV/AIDS. Do you ever feel frustrated that you you’re not making as big a difference as you would like Lennox: I had to think about this very carefully because I understand that there are so many problems in the world. Infinitely. And there always will be. That will never change, no. … And if you make this decision to get involved, don’t think that there’s just an end result and that’s what you’re aiming for. No, it’s the day-to-day commitment. It’s the small steps that really count, in my opinion. CNN: I’ve read that you consider yourself to be quite naive. Is that still true Lennox: I still have an aspect of naiveté, and I think it’s a valuable thing, because if I was jaded and cynical 100 percent as I could be, you know I would be less human and I think my acknowledgment that I can be naive is fine. It’s part of being human.