too lazy to find a quote


Laurie Anderson


Laurie Anderson is a performance artist born in Chicago. She moved to New York City because that's where all the arty types like to hang out. She's also married (or at least involved with) Lou Reed, so you know she's really cool.

Which reminds me... Readers in NYC: why do you live there? From an outsider's perspective, it looks like the most horrible place to live in the entire United States of America. Aside from Canada, of course.

review index: Big Science / Mister Heartbreak / Strange Angels / Life on a String

missing albums: Bright Red, The Ugly One With the Jewels, the inevitable live stuff

apex: Life on a String
nadir: Strange Angels
overlooked: yes

Big Science - 1982

Rating: ***
Best songs: Big Science, From the Air, O Superman (For Massenet)
Worst songs: Sweaters


The first Laurie (Sister of Harry) Anderson album produced a hit single in the United Arab Emerites. That song was "O Superman (For Massenet)". This is the story of that song.

Unfortunately, since VH1 is too busy with producing 3-hour episodes of Behind the Music about overrated classic rock bands and running all 57 hours of The Jacksons: An American Dream, they've left me with absolutely no biographical information about Laurie Anderson, so I'll just wing it from here. On the first Laurie (Cousin of Louie) Anderson album, the songs are generally synthesizer and/or drum machine loops over which Laurie speaks (or sometimes sings) odd, modernistic lyrics. Does that make sense? I'm sure it does.

Anyway, after you get over the fact that the lyrics take precedence over the music (hey, just like that Jewish boy from Minnesota!, not Prince), you can start to appreciate the inidividual songs. I think I mentioned "O Superman" earlier, didn't I? Well, it's about eight minutes long, and the rhythm track is an endlessly-repeated sample of Laurie (sings lower than Jon) Anderson saying "ha". Does that sound appealing to you? I'm sure it does.

Hey, (some of) the other songs are even better! The album opens with an incredibly creepy song about an airplane called "From the Air", and the title track is quite lovely, despite my suggestion that the music might not be that great. "Born, Never Asked" is quite good as well, but screw it, I've got to bitch about "Sweaters", which is the worst track on here, because it's filled with a bunch of cacophonic bagpipe/violin noise. Ugh. Does that sound bad--okay, I'll quit that running joke. In general, this album is good, but it doesn't always reach out and say "hey, WRC asshole, give me a high grade!". So I'll cop out with 3 stars.

Mister Heartbreak - 1984

Rating: ***
Best songs: Kokoku, Sharkey's Day, Gravity's Angel
Worst songs: none, really


It would seem that Laurie got some fans after releasing her first album. Since "O Superman" helped sell a bunch of copies of the first album, the record label allowed her to actually hire people to play on the album this time. Which thankfully makes the album sound a lot fuller than the last. Who appears? Why, none other than popular singing artist Peter Gabriel! Also, popular creepy writer guy William S. Burroughs pops up to narrate the closing track, "Sharkey's Night", which is more or less a reprise of the opening track. Bill Laswell plays the bass -- I think he's somewhat popular... somewhere, at least. And Adrian Belew gets to add some of his guitar scratchings here and there, but he started as a session musician anyway, so never mind.

So, with actual people, the production is improved over Big Science. The opener "Sharkey's Day" is a largish epic stream-of-consciousness story-type thing, with a bunch of guitar noise and crap. Then there's "Langue D'Amour", which is interesting lyrically, but a bit too slow and repetative for my tastes. Track III on Side I is called "Gravity's Angel", which builds up from a bit of clanging and a neat bass riff and then DAMMIT PETER GABRIEL, GET OUT OF THE FLOWERBED!!!

Sorry. You know how ex-Genesis singers are. Just yesterday I had Ray Wilson bugging me for spare change. I told him he should have saved his royalty money. All 20 bucks of it. Back on topic... Side two? Don't mind if I do! "Kokoku" is an absolutely wonderful Japenese-themed piece, and then there's that damn Gabriel kid again with "Excellent Birds (This Is the Picture (Excellent Birds (You Get the Picture)))". Finally we get to "Blue Lagoon", none of which I can remember, and then William S. Burroughs leches his way through "Sharkey's Night".

And I have no idea what the point is I'm trying to make. I thought this was better than the debut, but really, Big Science is just as good.

Strange Angels - 1989

Rating: **1/2
Best songs: Beautiful Red Dress, Coolsville, Monkey's Paw
Worst songs: Hiawatha, The Dream Before


Um, wha? At what point did Laurie decide to switch to genericism in her instrumental arrangements? Unfortunately, due to the incredibly typically-late-80s production, rapt with soft shimmy synthesizers and clean-enough-to-eat-off guitars, and Laurie's decision sing, it's kind of hard to concentrate on the main aspect of any Laurie Anderson album, namely the lyrics.

You probably notice I haven't given much thought to the lyrics, aside from arbitrarily assigning them as the most important part of Laurie's music. There are two very good reasons why: 1. I'm lazy, and as such my reviews tend to go towards summarizing things as quickly and easily as possible. 2. I am very, very horribly bad at literary analysis.

Anyway, focusing on melody and stuff, there are some quite lovely tunes in here: "Coolsville" and "Beautiful Red Dress" are the most notable examples, with the kinda-sorta-ethnic-esque "Monkey's Paw" following up or something. There's also the kinda creepy "The Day the Devil" and some other crap.

Told you I was lazy. Anyway, the worst problem is that the lame production and attempt at emphasizing melodies results in a few really boring songs. "The Dream Before" doesn't do much, and "Hiawatha" is one of those long, dull album enders. So you can tell I was a little disappointed with this album, but it's not that bad, really. Just mediocre.

Life on a String - 2001

Rating: ****
Best songs: Slip Away, The Island Where I Come From, Washington Street, One Beautiful Evening
Worst songs: My Compensation


Hey! Let's skip ahead by a few albums...since I don't have anything between Strangles and this one. Thankfully Laurie ditched the crappy synthesizers and hired some real people to play real instruments on this real album. Also thankfully she wrote some pretty damn good tunes to go along with her lyrics this time. You want to know about it? Sure, we all do! Let's start at the top, with "One White Whale", an ethereal organ-driven tune. It's an intriguing introduction to the album, and works a lot better than most album introductions do (you know what I mean, the track labeled "Intro" which is usually just a minute of the band messing around with a synthesizer or something). Then there's the shuffley "The Island Where I Come From", which actually uses percussive horns to good effect.

Okay, let's skip ahead. "Slip Away" might be my favorite Laurie Anderson song. It's positively cathartic (hey, I don't think I've used that word before!). After that is the low point of the album, "My Compensation", which is mostly a bunch of annoying synthesized percussion. Skipping ahead again, we have "Washington Street", containing a hell of a lot of vivid imagery and shit. Then there's some other stuff, bla bla bla, I'm bored with this. It's really good, though. I mean, for a girl.

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