Friday, July 30, 2010

CD REVIEW - Laurie Anderson / Homeland

Well, this has been a long time coming. Laurie Anderson's last studio album 'Life on a String' was released way back in 2001. Judging from the accompanying DVD, 'Homeland' has had a complex genesis, starting from recording improvised live performances, that generated huge amounts of ideas that she then struggled to re-form into some sort of coherent shape. Anderson appears to work in an instinctual way, one that isn't fully thought through in advance, she feels her way forward. Though she may not be sure what the theme she's exploring is half the time, she has an unerring ear for what she wants, and what sounds 'true'. This is a gut sense of the 'truth', but one not fully reasoned out. This explains the often elliptical and fractured nature of the narrative strands, around which she weaves her songs and pieces. Its the feelings she conjures up out of this, that are the strength of her work, half the time intensely personal and human, the rest perplexed, is as if she's viewing us from some distant alien perspective.

Anderson, because of her art performance background, is in no way a traditional or reliable narrator. Are these stories true, or woven around a truth? The world she evokes is often a wryly bemused and ironic one, an illusory sense of being trivial or lightweight surrounds her work, because of the lilting wit with which she cloaks the strength of her views. Anderson has, as a consequence, been unfairly accused of lacking in depth,gravitas and substance, which overlooks the subtlety and deftness with which see hits her targets. 'Homeland' itself, is a more sombre, melancholic chamber piece, from a mature artist at the refined height of her powers of expression. In her earlier work, 'United States Parts 1 to 4' from 1983, she portrayed an oddly quirky and dislocated society, alienated from its own humanity and that of others, even your home could turn into something unfamiliar and life threatening. 'Homeland' has a constant tone of bereavement, of having totally lost any sense of wanting to belong to the society she now finds herself in. The Bush years, the response to 9/11, the Iraq war, the US attitude to climate change, the credit crunch, have all taken there toll. Over the space of 17 years, people in the USA have gone from being dislocated, to becoming the dispossessed.

Anderson for many decades has used a voice filter to produce what she called 'the voice of authority.' This masculinised voice has now developed into a complete alter-ego, given the name Fenway Bergamot' by her husband Lou Reed. The eleven minute long track 'Another Day In America' is his world weary poetic musing on where on earth America could go from here, the optimism surrounding Obama's arrival has raised larger questions -

'And so finally, here we are at the beginning of a whole new era. The start of a brand new world. And now what? How do we start? How do we begin again?

When the only lifestyle you're offered is a consumerist/materialist one, what does that do to your sense of purpose, your joie de vivre - the issues become more existential and hence spiritual in tone.

'And ah these days. All these days! What are days for? To wake us up. To put between the endless nights."

Often the political surfaces in Anderson's work through the personal, through the tales that she tells. But here, she directly hits out, particularly on ' Only an Expert' at the cultural and political passivity that makes experts to be the final arbiters on whether something is a problem or not, and then to present us with the ready made solution. Can we trust these 'voices of authority' any more, because they've been proved to have feet clay, because they have vested interests, because they want to keep things just as they are. No one is speaking truthfully, every one has a forked tongue.

' Now sometimes experts lend you money, and sometimes they lend you lots of money, and sometimes when the sub-prime mortgages collapse, and banks close and businesses fail, and the crisis spreads around the world -sometimes other experts say: just because all the markets crashed, doesn't mean its necessarily a bad thing.'

'And other experts say: just because all your friends were fired, and your family's broke and we didn't see it coming, doesn't mean that we were wrong.'

'And just because you lost your job and your home and all your savings, doesn't mean you don't have to pay for the bailouts, for the traders and the bankers and the speculators. Cause only an expert can design a bailout, and only an expert can expect a bailout.'

Anderson may not define herself as a Buddhist, nor actively practice Buddhism, but her contact with, and understanding of Buddhism is there - it informs her view, and seeps through via her words. The opening track the impressive 'Transitory Life' is a heart felt ode on the impermanence of existence.

'Afraid to breathe, afraid to rise, we run and run in this transitory life. Tipped off balance we fall like light. We land on water in this transitory life. We fall like light on water and water turns to ice. Everything keeps changing in this transitory life.'

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