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October 29, 2019 3:57 PM   Subscribe

Oct 24, 1989 [a few days late for the anniversary, apologies], renowned (perhaps revered) performance and recording artist Laurie Anderson released her fourth studio album Strange Angels. A departure from earlier musical styles (much more singing), yet continuing with her observations about humanity and absurdity and sound experimentation, the album served as a bit of a soundtrack release for her performance art show Empty Places [audience bootleg, good quality, 1h33m]. Side A: Strange Angels, Monkey's Paw, Coolsville, Ramon [Leno appearance from 1990 with interview recommend!], Babydoll posted by hippybear (21 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
I bought this album the day it was released on cassette. Ask me anything.
posted by The Tensor at 4:40 PM on October 29, 2019 [4 favorites]

I don’t know about your brain, but mine is really... bossy.
posted by LizardBreath at 4:41 PM on October 29, 2019 [12 favorites]

Oh thank you for this. She's one of my very favorite artists and has been since I was pretty much a kid. It took me awhile to warm up to this one but I eventually did and it's one my favorites. The Dream Before is one of the most haunting songs I've ever encountered and never ceases to take my breath away.
posted by treepour at 5:12 PM on October 29, 2019

I’ve been playing her latest, Songs from the Bardo, on repeat lately. Check it out, it’s amazing.
posted by waytoomuchcoffee at 5:14 PM on October 29, 2019

In 1991, she played at the University of Illinois in Champaign. Went to see her. Dopped acid about an hour before hand. What a cool show! I'd only known her from Home of the Brave. This show was more stripped down, but just plain excellent. She did some of her "oldies" including "Walk the Dog" which I can remember like it was yesterday. Trip down memory lane.
posted by SoberHighland at 5:29 PM on October 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

Dear dog I love her!
posted by Splunge at 6:15 PM on October 29, 2019

She's one of my first and most treasured influences in what I went into as a performer and I adore her, but Strange Angels had the pall of high polish and marketing department hanging over it for me—when it came out, I was appalled that she'd made this plain-sounding sing-song pop album, particularly right after a run of absolutely stunning records, and it swiftly landed among the records I seldom played. In retrospect, there's more of her vibe running through it than 21-year-old me gave it credit for, but I waited out her singing-lessons period and was absolutely knocked out watching the stripped-down, intimate performance, without the projections and multimedia stage work in Gaston Hall at Georgetown U in the early nineties, after which she talked to me for quite a while as she wound up cables and packed her gear and set me on the path I've been on ever since.

It's interesting how things that leave you flat at first can resurface decades later and give you the delight of discovery long after you thought you'd already shrugged them off.
posted by sonascope at 6:42 PM on October 29, 2019 [6 favorites]

How about cow? That's a horse.
posted by escabeche at 7:30 PM on October 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

You know, this album got (and gets) dunked on a lot by Laurie fans, but it has some truly transcendent moments on it. First of all, that title track. As a haunting eulogy for fallen friends, it has perhaps only "Being Boring" by Pet Shop Boys to compete. (The death of friend and cover photographer Robert Mapplethorpe months before its release lends the song an extra weight, I think.) Also, "Coolsville", which was even more starkly powerful in its live presentation during Empty Places. "Hiawatha" is a wry but moving meditation on the mythology of the American West. And "The Dream Before" got me on the path to Walter Benjamin, much as "White Lily" turned me on to Rainer Werner Fassbinder.

And yes, the album has a certain "high polish," as sonascope says, but look at the list of contributors and you'll see it was performed by the royalty of '80s NYC avant-garde: Joey Baron, Peter Scherer, Anton Fier, David Van Tieghem, "Blue" Gene Tyranny, Arto Lindsay, the Roches. This is avant-pop played with purpose by players who wrote the book on Downtown art-noise. It's a testament to their versatility and open-mindedness, I think, rather than a glossy sell-out.

Anyway, it's a great and important album, and even if one insisted on framing it as a "lesser" Laurie Anderson record (which I do not), that still puts it above most anything else made that year, or ever.
posted by mykescipark at 8:27 PM on October 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

Caught Ms. Anderson at the Berkeley Community Theater in 1984 when she was performing Mr. Heartbreak which remains my favorite of her albums. It was on a no-fills set and some front and rear projections. I am pretty sure on stage with her were David Van Tieghem and Adrian Belew. And maybe Anton Fier. If Bill Laswell played bass I guess I wasn't familiar enough with him at the time to remember. Regardless, the show was fantastic, in particular the performance of Langue d'Amour. Thanks for posting this and bringing back the memory.
posted by Insert Clever Name Here at 8:31 PM on October 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

I have never felt this was somehow a lesser Laurie album, like ever. I bought it when it came out. I saw Empty Places in Albuquerque on tour (I still have the shirt with the shoe on it). This collection of songs is like if Kate Bush was overflowing with irony. Laurie's singing voice is lovely and her sounds and words are as inventive as ever. So much great material on this, truly.

If you discounted it early on and haven't listened to it since, give it an honest listen. It's truly great.
posted by hippybear at 8:42 PM on October 29, 2019 [2 favorites]

let x = x
posted by JoJoPotato at 9:04 PM on October 29, 2019 [3 favorites]

"White Lily"
posted by Windopaene at 10:01 PM on October 29, 2019 [2 favorites]

So when you see a man who's broken
Pick him up and carry him
And when you see a woman who's broken
Put her all into your arms
'Cause we don't know where we come from
We don't know what we are.
posted by hippybear at 10:09 PM on October 29, 2019 [4 favorites]

Oh, this was life-changing for me. I'd resisted earlier efforts to get me to like her, even though everyone was (correctly) identifying her to me as someone I would adore. Also my partner at the time worshipped Anderson, and he was so annoying about it that it made me push back. But then this. I was going through a lot of loss and upheaval, and so much of this album hit me in my core, the way Magic & Loss did.

I never realized people considered it a lesser album. Their loss, I guess. I still quote things from this in my best Laurie voice, whenever me and ex get together.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 11:06 PM on October 29, 2019

The notion of it being lesser, for me, comes down to how, if you could listen to the album a capella, it would be a straight-up Laurie Anderson album, but if you listened to it as an instrumental album, an awful lot of it would be indistinguishable from the pop productions of the period. Granted, I'm a sounds-and-textures guy before I'm a the-words guy (I've got longstanding comprehension issues with sung lyrics that was one of the reasons i loved Laurie from the outset, because she articulated and intentionally overarticulated her words so that I could understand them even with all that was going on), so I think I was disappointed by an album that just sounded...mainstream.

The thing about her other albums was that they just didn't sound like anything else—Big Science was stark and severe and earnest and buzzy, Mister Heartbreak was a day-glo terrarium of numerous unknown species of bugs, rendered gloriously with sampling taken to the edge and Adrian Belew and David Tieghem playing to that theme, Home of the Brave and USA Live took you into the live setting in ways that just didn't sound like anything else out there...and then Strange Angels came along and it just didn't have that same what-on-earth-am-I-listening-to feeling. In a way, it's subversive because it's so smooth and glossy, with Laurie working around the boundaries of the banal, doing Laurie Anderson turns over a lot of standard studio musicianship and almost every pop cliché of 1989 (zydeco accordions, gospel choirs, soft jazz twinkling guitars) and every synth sound being a preset rather than the carefully crafted sounds of her earlier (and following) work.

At the time, it seemed to me to be a surrender to the sort of flattening impetus of big label pop, but in context of her subsequent return to albums that sounded like nothing else, it's interesting to see it as a gateway drug into her music for people who would have been put off by the overwhelming stridency of, say, "Sweaters," and realize that it wasn't for me because it literally wasn't for me, and served instead as a sugar-coated capsule of her storytelling tailored for delivery to a broader audience, disguised as something more ordinary.

I still chafe at the timbral choices, but in 2019, I get it like I didn't in 1989.
posted by sonascope at 4:58 AM on October 30, 2019 [3 favorites]

I didn't know anything about Laurie Anderson until I read Pamela Dean's Juniper, Gentian and Rosemary, which referenced the album a lot and also thematically used the lyrics. I don't know if I enjoy it, exactly - it's a little too avant for me (which means I would probably not like her other albums if this is considered too mainstream by her fans) but some of the songs still resonate for me.
posted by PussKillian at 7:55 AM on October 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

PussKillian, sounds like Mr. Heartbreak might be just what you're looking for.
posted by sneebler at 3:31 PM on October 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

it's a little too avant for me (which means I would probably not like her other albums if this is considered too mainstream by her fans)

Many of her albums are basically made up of pieces lifted from her live shows, which are a mix of musical experimentation (a violin made with tape head reader and bow with a length of tape on it which gets played instead of strings, microphones which do various things to her voice including singing in chords or lowering her voice to sound male), and spoken word pieces which offer her own musings on various things, often with a dry, ironic sense of humor and a slightly askance viewpoint. These albums are great if you like Laurie, but you sort of have to have bought the ticket for her particular train ride to really get into them.

Strange Angels is easily the most "this is a group of songs" releases of hers. Mister Heartbreak, suggested above, is a mix, heading more toward songs but with a lot of pieces from her show which work well sonically but work better if you watch them happening. You can see the entire show at Home Of The Brave [1h30m], which is a concert film which probably best captures Laurie at her most complex performance art heights and showcases her particular technical wizardry and her sideways approach to things. Bright Red/Tightrope continues this pop feel with production by Brian Eno.

I think she's an interesting artist creating interesting things and I've followed her for something like 35 years at this point. But I do recognize she isn't everyone's cup of tea.
posted by hippybear at 8:14 PM on October 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

I loves me some Laurie Anderson. My older sister went off to college and brought back a VHS of Home of the Brave and a copy of Neuromancer. Both were moments, I had smuggled in coolness of knowing weirdness. If you wanted to know why I have a thing for weird short-haired women who you think just might be lesbian... It's Laurie Anderson. She was so awesome that sixteen year old me was in love. I've had hallucinations involving Laurie Anderson being a bartender set off by a ceiling fan gone "ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha" Laurie Anderson - O Superman [Official Music Video]. I was a bit crushed when she married Lou Reed, but I can accept that even though my fantasy had been crushed. She's one of the few that I have a boxed set of anthology CD's where I'm always pleasantly smiling when they pop up in that random mix. She still does weird things to me.

Now I want to know whether playing that tie, or the violin that spoke . Everybody should take the time to at least go through Laurie Anderson Home Of The Brave 1986) FULL.

Thanks much hippybear.
posted by zengargoyle at 7:07 PM on October 31, 2019

She also taught me how to dance, which explains a lot...
posted by zengargoyle at 7:09 PM on October 31, 2019

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