It’s no coincidence that it appears as if the blood has been drained from Annie Lennox’s face on the cover of her third solo effort, Bare. Death, both figurative and literal, consumes much of the album (her first since 1995’s collection of covers Medusa), and her mummified image is more than apropos. In Bare‘s liner notes, Lennox concedes, “I am a mature woman facing up to the failed expectations of life,” and while there is a certain sorrow to the album, it is not a fear of mortality but, rather, an embrace of it that comes through. Death is better taken as a metaphor for the end of a relationship on “The Hurting Time” and “Loneliness,” while the aptly-titled “The Saddest Song” is more direct (“I want you not/I need you not/I’m dying”) and also evokes the minimalist arrangement of Lennox’s classic ballad “Why.” “Honestly” plays out like an internal dialogue—a communication inside Lennox’s own mind, if you will—and exposes conversations with her lover that don’t actually exist. Even songs like “Wonderful” are tinged with a masochistic mix of desire, despair and self-deprecation: “Idiot me, stupid fool…But I feel wonderful.” Often Lennox’s lyrics are conventional but the prize has always been her glorious voice and unique phrasing. Longtime producer Stephen Lipson’s production is decidedly “bare” (the nuances of songs like “No More I Love You’s” are missing), leaving room for the singer’s emotive performances, but the 7-plus-minute “The Hurting Time” is weighed down by a synthesized smooth-jazz ether that makes the ageless Lennox sound her age. Like every new Sade album, Lennox and Lipson stick to the tried-and-true formula and take few risks; though timeless, it would be interesting to hear Lennox’s sound updated. Still, the impact of Bare‘s conceptual themes are potent. The album begins and ends with two very different kinds of optimism: the gorgeous, orchestral “A Thousand Beautiful Things” is an obvious recognition of life’s silver linings, while the sad, final track, “Oh God (Prayer),” is a more symbolic call for hope.