Stereophile: Record To Die For
We haven't heard from Laurie Anderson in eight years -- since her Live at Town Hall NYC recording, cut two weeks after September 11, 2001 -- but that doesn't mean she hasn't been busy. Homeland began as a series of ideas recorded on the road in which she simply sang songs and told various stories about America. Some of them ended up as a concert poem about America that was a logical extension of her United States I-IV project -- and a non-didactic indictment of the Bush administration. The live recordings were combined with basic studio tracks, ending in 25 songs. She eventually ended up with the daunting task of sorting through, editing, and engineering a million audio files. Husband Lou Reed lent fresh ears when they were most needed; he is listed as a co-producer, as is longtime associate Roma Baran. Homeland features appearances from a stellar cast including Tuvan throat singers and igil players of Chirgilchin along with a number of experimental jazz and rock players, including Rob Burger, Omar Hakim, Reed, John Zorn, Kieran Hebden, Shahzad Ismaily, Eyvind Kang, Joey Baron, Peter Scherer, Skuli Sverrisson, Ben Wittman, and Antony Hegarty. Its songs -- whether spoken or sung -- are profoundly musical rather than simply conceptual. They ask questions about what it means to be an American in the 21st century, philosophically and personally, by way of references as diverse as Thomas Paine, Søren Kierkegaard, Aristophanes, and Oprah Winfrey -- and Anderson's wonderful sense of irony. While there isn't a single cut in this dozen that doesn't bear repeated listening, certain ones stand out. The trilogy that begins with "My Right Eye" and continues through "Thinking of You" and "Strange Perfumes" consists of nocturnal, low-key songs haunted by the beauty of Anderson's violin and voice with help from various singers, Kang's viola, Scherer's keyboards, and Burger's various instruments, including accordion. Hegarty assists on the last of these, lending it an ethereal quality. All are lyrical and haunting. "Only an Expert," driven by Hebden's keyboards and Reed's distorted guitar, is a scathing indictment of the rise of focus groups and the nebulous talking heads on television who analyze everything about modern life. The album's true hinge piece, "Another Day in America," employs Anderson's longtime male alter ego Fenway Bergamot. Zorn's bleating alto saxophone adds weight, dimension, and shock value to the lovely "Bodies in Motion." He also appears on "The Beginning of Memory," a song that relates the narrative allegory of a play from Aristophanes. Homeland is literally the most accessible Anderson recording since 1982's Big Science and easily stands among her masterworks.
© Thom Jurek /TiVo