Annie Lennox is often at her very best as a songwriter when she is feeling at her very worst.
Songs like the troubled-soul ballad "Cold" or the deceptively sunny "Walking on Broken Glass" from her 1992 solo debut, "Diva," have proved her mastery of transforming personal ache into beautiful music that never crosses the line into tragic, tortured-artist territory. She may sometimes be sad, but she's still singing and, when applicable, making it snappy.
She applies her ever-mesmerizing mix of vocal heat and instrumental chill to images of longing, falling, searching, raging, and despair on her deeply emotional and soul-stirring fourth solo album, "Songs of Mass Destruction," out today.
The title is just about the only thing that is destined to be dated about this release as Lennox continues to sing with irresistible fierceness and write in a highly relatable style that follows tradition as often as it strays from it.
The stomp and surge of buoyant piano rocker "Love Is Blind," for instance, gives us traditional "colder/older" pop rhymes. But then Lennox goes off on an exhilarating minor-chord tirade, breathlessly querying, "can't you see that I'm addicted to the notion of a someone who could take me from this wretched state?/ Save me from the bitterness and hatred of humanity/ It's so screwed up/ Tired of being down on love/ Tired of being beaten up." Not only can we see, we can understand.
Producer Glen Ballard (Alanis Morissette, Dave Matthews) stays within Lennox's preferred orbit of mixing analog and digital sounds to create a palette that ably serves pop, dance, soul, and gospel canvases.
"Ghosts in My Machine" covers equally dark territory with a more upbeat sensibility as Lennox bemoans her psychic pain with the help of a call-and-response choir and swinging accordions, creating a nutty techno-Cajun-gospel hybrid that sounds both wounded and uplifting.
But everything isn't boo-hoo blue on "Destruction."
Lennox has done optimism and empowerment with equal verve in the past, and she does it again with the sassy vocal fillips and kicky grooves of "Womankind" and by striking up an all-star chorus for "Sing." A sort of sequel to the Eurythmics' "Sisters Are Doin' It for Themselves," the song features nearly two-dozen fellow female singer-songwriters: Madonna, Joss Stone, Shakira, Gladys Knight, Pink, Fergie, Faith Hill, and Angelique Kidjo - all doing the "you go, girl" thing with high-kicking spirit.
Although Lennox doesn't release records with anything approaching regularity - this is her fourth solo release in 15 years - the payoff has always been worth the wait.
Sarah Rodman can be reached at email@example.com.