Laurie Anderson-Homeland (Nonsuch records5240055-2) deluxe CD with DVD 2010
It’s hard to believe but it is nearly 10 years since Laurie Anderson’s last studio album, Life on a String (nonesuch lc00286) and unlike that album and the preceding one Strange Angels (WB 9 25900-2) this new work has more in common with her earlier material than the conventional song structures which were a part of those previous albums.
Homeland is more of a performance art piece and features tone poems , monologues with a music background and only one recognizable traditional verse and chorus structured track.
The 12 tracks comprising this album were mostly composed while touring and the ideas then pulled together in the studio. In the sleeve notes Anderson says “This record was written on the road. I wanted the fun and spontaneity of doing live shows and it had gotten so lonely making records just sitting in the studio staring at pro tools files….” she continues ” I began Homeland by making an ever-changing series of stories, songs and songs about America. Without worrying about finishing the songs I just went out and started to play them….”1 taken from the liner notes to Homeland.
After the tour had finished according to Laurie she ” began a process of putting all the versions together, re-recording things I liked and stitching and welding parts together” this ended up with her once again “back in the studio starring at audio files. And it was beyond daunting” with the help of her husband Lou Reed who produces the album she ” 2 was finally able to finish this record ”
So what do we have here ? well an interesting mixture of biting political satire, introspection of self and country including religion, American foreign policy, culture and the seeming nonsense of modern American life to a musical background as diverse as that of swirling ethnic instrumentation, vocals such as on track one Transitory Life which features Tuvan throat singers, and almost house style dance music. No one could point the finger and accuse Laurie of sticking to only one style of musical soundscape, in fact the only constant is that of her haunting voice, which floats above it all.
Track one Transitory Life opens up with a deep thrumming bass line which punctuates the strange haunting sound of the, viola, Igil (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Igil) and the alien Tuvan throat vocals that drift along underneath Laurie’s monologue and singing. The overall vibe while classic Anderson also feels a wee bit like something Lisa Gerrard might have come up with.
My Bright Eye track two starts of as an Anderson tone poem accompanied by vaguely Indian soundtrack before picking up the tempo
Track three Thinking of You has a Michael Nymaness minimal stringed background, punctuated every so often with similar bass notes to track one.
Strange Perfumes mixes an ethnic Indian vibe with a slow droning rythm to create a haunting, almost dance track that at times sounds a little like Welsh group Hybrid but more laid back and chilled out than they do normally.
One of the most uptempo tracks which is crying out for a dance remix is the epic attack on the blight of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century the Expert. Laurie has a pop at many targets and through out track five Only an Expert she weaves a vicious satirical attack on everyone from Oprah Winfrey, Al Gore, the banking crisis and subsequent bank bail out, Climate change to the Iraq war…controversial indeed.
Falling is a haunting slice of electonic tone poetry.
Another Day in America sees the Laurie Anderson created male persona Fenway Bergamot take centre seat to narrate a Victor Meldrew styled winge about American life in general. The album cover photo of Anderson dressed like Charlie Chaplin is a somewhat disturbing image of her in male drag as Fenway.
Fenway’s origins lie in a show Anderson did in 1978 for a William Burroughs celebration at the Nova Convention, she had invented a voice modulator which back then she called The Voice of Authority. During the process of making this album Lou Reed gave the voice of authority a new name that of Fenway Bergamont and as Anderson says “Having an alter ego means you can escape yourself once in awhile, to see the world through other eyes” Another Day in America sees Laurie give free rain to Mr Bergamont.
Bodies in Motion sounds very much like the sort of thing Peter Gabriel might come up with as the track has a very Gabrielesque vibe.
Dark time in the Revolution is an O Supermanesque style of track which deals with the American constitution, revolution and warfare. The track ends with the lines “welcome to the American night”……”we keep calling them up” and this amongst a rousing up tempo military drum solo. Thought provoking stuff.
The last two tracks on the album with vocals, The Lake a haunting folk song and The Beginning of Memory sees Laurie in less combative mode and more gentle and spiritual. The Beginning of Memory is a particularly beautiful and disturbing piece of music about a time before there was land, only sky and millions of birds constantly in motion and flight.
Flow the final track features Laurie playing her violin solo. Laurie is a little like Robert Fripp in that she has invented new ways of playing and manipulating the sound of her instrument with results similar to Fripps Frippatronics.
As she says her self about this “Homeland is built on groove electronics and new string sounds for violin. I spent a lot of time inventing new ways for the violin to sound. the string filters created melodies that turned into sons…..I make electronic filters so that other people can hear what you hear when you’re playing the violin, your ear to the body of the instrument. the scrape of horsehair over steel, the harmonics and overtones, the buzz and hum. The filters bring these sounds above the noise floor.” 3 taken from the liner notes to Homeland
Having played this album a number of times it has really grown on me and to be honest it would be slightly dishonest to say there are any real stand-out tracks as to my mind the whole album is a stand-out track. I could point to the up tempo tracks but I wont. I really think you need to take Homeland as a whole and enjoy it as such. In my opinion to do less, is to miss out on the magic this album is when taken in its completeness.
I can’t see this album winning Laurie any new fans in America, in fact she may well have to weather a storm of righteous indignation from that quarter and while it is easy to say this as an Anglophile I think she asks some valid questions, not only about America but the rest of us all as well.
Sound quality is open and detailed with excellent bass weight and a wide deep soundstage.
While I prefer the style of music she made on Life on a String and Strange Angels, I still think this is a fabulous album but if you are new to Laurie Anderson I think either of those two albums might act as a better introduction rather than this album. However in saying that if you are a little bit adventurous in your musical taste and you give Homeland a go first, then I don’t think you will be disappointed.
Laurie Anderson-Vocals, Keyboards, violin
Igor Koshkendey, Mongoun-ool Ondar-Igil
Rob Burger-Orchestron, accordion, keyboards
Lou Reed-Percussion, guitar
Ben Wittman-Percussion, drums
Sound quality 9 out of 10
Performance 9 out of 10
AMR CD-777, Meridian G02 Balanced Pre-Amplifier, Music Reference RM200 Amplifier, Anthony Gallo Ref 3.1 Speakers. Signal Cabling Atlas Marvos xlr to xlr, and Atlas Marvos Speaker cable. Mains leads Audience AU24 and Analysis Plus Power Oval 2. Equipment Tables used Clearlight Audio Aspekt Rack and Mana Floor Amplifier platform.
NB. The copyright of the images in this review belong with the original publishers.
© Text Copyright 2010 Adventures in High Fidelity Audio, except liner note excerpts 1,2, 3which are Copyright to Laurie Anderson.
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