Laurie Anderson – Homeland (Nonesuch/Warner)
It’s easy to miss Laurie Anderson. She might have been out there in the creative spectrum for over 30 years and she’s artistic royalty but still she lives on the fringe, experimenting with art, theatre, instillation and the like. Maybe once or twice a decade she’ll release a collection of songs but they often skirt the charts and don’t put her on the covers of magazines – so common folk like you and I aren’t likely to find Anderson turning our world upside down.
Homeland took Laurie Anderson three years to make: 109 different song ideas whittled, melded and shaped into 12 songs. The first truth that comes into focus from Homeland is that we have much to learn from our elders.
There’s a strange mixture of prophesising, philosophising and shamanistic warning throughout this hour-long journey. Maybe the Tuvaluan throat singers, who make the first utterances throughout opener ‘Transitory Life’, frame it this way. They are just the first of many moments that create a world of mystery more than additional rhythm and melody. Early on, ‘Thinking Of You’ and ‘Strange Perfumes’, and later ‘Bodies In Motion’ and ‘The Beginning Of Memory’, are filled with the ominous weight of the world. The songs are rich with textures: Anderson and Evilyn Klang’s violins, Kieran Hebden’s keyboards, John Zorn’s saxophone or Antony’s haunting cry all given room so that you can acknowledge their part in the story. The notion of space to understand is given greater prominence over the need of sound to entertain.
We all like to think we know the answers to how the world works but Anderson asks some big questions here, not only of individuals but also of a country she no longer claims to recognise. Even in the safety of answers we get beat-happy songs like ‘Only An Expert’ – a paradigm that would make the Dadaist’s proud. This song stands out: first, for its absurdist dancefloor nature in the middle of such reflective beauty: and second, for its throwaway feel even as it’s filled with the truths that our modern society has built its entire foundations upon.
This is a brilliant album that turns taboos into small talk, reminds you that you will die and leave nothing but memories and that every person you meet can be affected by you. On the surface, this album is a live performance distilled into an album and narrated by alter-egos. On the surface, this is one person with the freedom to ask, “What happened to the country I thought I was living in?” But this album can be a lot more than that. That’s up to you.