, July 16th, 2010 09:28
On the cover of her debut album, 1982's Big Science, Laurie Anderson stands lightning white against shadow. When album track 'O Superman' reached a surprise No. 2 in the British charts, the performance artist turned poet turned composer-photographer-filmmaker became a lab-coated Superwoman for the Popular, as well as a full-voiced figure of the avant-garde.
On the cover of Homeland, her first studio album for almost ten years, her androgynous image remains, a little aged - coy grey moustache matching her crop, signature suit collaring wizened cheekbones and eyes. If Anderson's act is four decades old, its media pre-date the multi-faceted technologies through which we now hear. Anderson had, has, foresight, and if she would consent to the idea of timeless, I'd use that adjective here.
Much of the material on Homeland dates from a couple of years ago, when she begun performing a tour of the same name. If you've seen her ever-evolving live show on stage, or via the platforms of YouTube, you may have heard certain snippets of these songs before. The produce of the shows apparently amounted to106 tracks, from which the twelve on the album are drawn. Alongside husband and album producer, Lou Reed, Anderson reconstructed her performative material until its million little pieces formed a united whole.
This process of retrospective production, incising songs from a vast body of nomadic material, seems to chime with the making patterns of our times: to re-hash, condense or further confuse moving fields of information. This process of creation careers through cut-ups of place and encounter, both keeping pace with fast-tracked thinking, and soothing spans of attention. Beyond leaps in subject matter and reference - from religion to cynicism, torture to freedom, philosophy to trashy TV - this auditory editing remains subliminal at the level of listening.
"As Kierkegaard said", Anderson's apocalyptic 'audio drag' voice reports on 'Another Day In America', "this world can only be understood when lived backwards". The voice filter that deepens her pitch to a male pastiche of authority cameos just once on Homeland; elsewhere, it is the female troubadour that guides us through territories in which previous homes, absent towns, lost faces and ex-bodies appear like resurging ghosts.
Frail words and assailing violin paint the personal side of tragic action; on 'Transitory Life', Anderson's words evoke Aristophanes' play The Birds - larks and shiny black coffins. Yet the 'Homeland' of her title evokes not only the familiarity of the nest from the distance of the road, but undercuts the political conundrums of the state. Innuendos of the Bush administration's 'Department of Homeland Security' are wilfully pitted: in 'Only an Expert' - the album's critical climax - Keiran Hebden's electronics augment lyrics of problematic politics, in which answers are extinct. Anderson enumerates questions, mocking the idea of solutions - "the hair solution, the debt solution, the world solution, the sushi... solution" - whilst her songs hold no space for answers.
"SPEAK MY LANGUAGE", Anderson asked in the past. Here, she reworks another way of telling - or, more aptly, of asking: "Will it be the best of times? The worst of times? Or just another one of those times? Show of hands please."