Laurie Anderson Laurie AndersonHomeland
This long-awaited new work, “Homeland”, has been almost five years in the making for Laurie Anderson. She has presented ideas and a few excerpts during recent shows around the world, but didn’t really get down to it until the last two years. A selective filtering of her live performances, the task became a jigsaw puzzle almost to the point of sinking the project. It was too much for Laurie. But finally, with the aid of her inestimable Lou Reed, she has finally managed to crack selecting the material recorded, picking twelve songs of the forty-five gathered. With this precedent, and unconsciously shooting the memory of her husband’s unbearable “The Raven” in the head, “Homeland” looks to be a work that’s had the scaffolding up around it for quite some time, and a real testimony to Laurie Anderson 2.0. But at the same time, it sounds as light as a feather, and its conceptual alibi can be lowered or readapted to one’s taste without problems. It’s just a question of getting started. Today it can be an accessible album, and tomorrow, a crazy idea. It’s really still early in the day to talk about it...
As with The Books or Scott Walker, with Laurie Anderson it’s impossible to separate art and life. It’s easier to imagine her musical proposals in a museum than in a concert hall. But don’t let this deter you. What I do with this type of supra-artistic manifesto is take my time with them, approaching them calmly, with the spirit level of my prejudice counter as level as possible, and forgetting the speed at which the rest of the world turns for a moment. I deliver myself to it without distractions. This is when its spell starts to take hold. In this sense, it is a really severe, sincere reflection of a shock-proof personality: that of the world’s most important multimedia artist, as she has been known for many years. Her first studio LP since “Life on a String” (2001), “Homeland” brings together Anderson’s latest obsessions, turning it into an album-alert. Specifically, it is an inventory of all of the concerns rooted in the decade that is ending, about which the artist still feels that she has something to say.
But Laurie is the same as always. In the strictly musical sense, we’re talking practically about the same coordinates that her albums have always had. Having become the grand dame of the avant-garde, and enjoying her golden sixties like nobody else, deep down our star is still making the same kind of music that she was when she started with this art thing, with the difference that now her maturity and majesty fit the proposal like a glove. The vast conceptual background around which the whole project orbits –the passing of the Bush era to the age of Obama– also suits her perfectly, offering her the most abstract, perfect canvas on which to paint with sounds. You can tell that it’s an album that has gelled and rested for some years. Her drawing of the American empire, as changing and expressionistic as the theme itself, is specified in all sorts of headlines and keywords: differences-religion, civil rights, decline-media, crisis-economy, abuses-war, publicity-obsession, safety-health; but they never sound hackneyed or gratuitously provocative, but rather striking, threateningly lovely. That’s the most special thing about “Homeland”: this shadowy, burning intrigue that prevents us from entirely discerning what will happen in the next song.
An album of contrasts, covered in an auditory unknown, as an LP it is difficult to categorise within her discography. But what is undeniable is thinking of a future that is as exciting as that enjoyed today by works like “Big Science,” her great opus “United States,” or the rest of her albums, almost all of them still amazingly fresh still in 2010. Erudite but never complicated, untiring and captivating, Laurie Anderson’s avant-garde still has that supernatural air that has always kept her ahead of her few potential rivals. This is a year loaded down with work, and she remains as upright as ever. Hostess of the exquisite Vivid Festival, she is already preparing the new performances “Dellusion” and “Improvisations,” a retrospective in São Paulo for this August, and a book for 2011. Her ability to sound as powerful as banging a gong in the midst of silence remains perfectly intact. An exquisite humour, an astounding facility for easing tensions, and those enigmatic intromissions of the terrifying into the mystic are all amongst Anderson’s strengths, and that make “Homeland” a bitter bonbon with a challenging look. Challenging for her, for us, and for the directing assistants, who include: the voice of Antony, a dry Reed like a raisin, the crazy sax of John Zorn, the keyboards of Four Tet , and various outstanding musicians from the New York jazz scene –there is ex-Weather Report’s Omar Hakim– are all invited to the coven. All with a lot of arty substance, struggling between an almost monastic approach to listening or the sin of daring to show up at a club (satirical and incisive “Only an Expert,” a hit in which Hebden pulls his hair with Reed’s poisonous guitar). Warhol would have loved it.
Although it might seem cold (we won’t say distant) at times, “Homeland” ends up crystallising into a beautiful, refined figurine, like a Lladró with a punk past to be lived down. That is how I see songs of highly-refined minimal pop like “The Lake”, “Dark Time in the Revolution” and “Flow.” As we said above, based on the perennial quality of its production, Anderson’s new album contains a current, monumental and tremendously modern kind of music. Taking it to your ground is much easier than it seems. I accept that my playing ground is the same as hers. For this reason, the same way that last year, I seemed to hear echoes of Laurie in albums like “Bitte Orca”, today I can’t help imagining Charles Chaplin within Plastikman’s “Closer” when it comes to assigning an image to the hair-raising “Another Day In America”, narrated by the Fenway Bergamot of the cover. The same way I can’t stop thinking of Matt Elliott when I listen to “Strange Perfumes” or the repressed illusions of Sufjan Stevens when I hear the overwhelming “Thinking of You”. Whether you like it more or less, “Homeland” means business and is an example of the definitive truth, out there.
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