Laurie Anderson: Homeland

[14 June 2010]

By Ron Hart

Laurie Anderson’s Homeland originally started out as a “concert poem” that the legendary performance artist collaborated on with Lou Reed during her 2008 world tour—notably, this was also during the period of George W. Bush’s final months in office. 

Considered to be a 21st century extension of her 1983 multimedia project United States I-IV, the concert poem offered a stinging, uncompromising look at post-9/11 America; a time when civil liberties were squashed like bugs in the name of security; cameras watched every move in public; the economy was played in a rich man’s game of craps; wars were waged on hunches and innuendos; and foreign policy was treated by the Bush administration like the proverbial redheaded stepchild. Thus inspired, it was a challenging, humorous, moving and confrontational piece of musical art that left audiences equally intrigued and angered.

It was said that a few people walked out in the middle of the show at London’s Barbican Centre, apparently put off by Anderson’s polarizing views of the state of America and the war in Iraq. Not long before, Anderson was deemed a ‘threat to national security’ by the FBI after she sent out a new musical instrument she calls the “talking stick”—which is essentially a baton hotwired with buttons devised to make different sounds—via FedEx to a Chicago museum on the same day Bush was in town. Perhaps that experience harbored some creative influence on the composition of Homeland as well.

Two years later, Anderson’s release of Homeland is the hotly anticipated soundtrack from her tour, and also her first proper album in nearly a decade. Easily her most enjoyable and pop friendly work since 1982’s Big Science, the album version of Anderson’s concert-poem, much like the stage production, is a very challenging endeavor on the offset.

However, if you fully lend yourself to the mission of its message, you will be treated to an incredible work of art pop of the highest order, loaded with about as many killer cameos as the new Roots album, How I Got Over. The presence of husband Reed looms large over this project, serving as co-producer alongside Anderson and Roma Baran, as well as lending his talents to a couple of tracks on here, as well. The most prominent of which, the brilliantly glitchy dance number “Only An Expert” (a song that fits perfectly in the context of the handling of the BP oil disaster), features Reed on guitar alongside Kieran “Four Tet” Hebden on keyboards.

Elsewhere, NYC out-jazz kingpin John Zorn, who has been touring as a mind-blowing experimental trio with Reed and Anderson across the globe over the last couple of years, lends the caustic bleat of his saxophone to tracks like “Bodies In Motion” and “The Beginning of Memory”, a beautifully profound meditation on a time when the earth was made up of only air and birds.

However, the true centerpiece of this audio version of Homeland is “Another Day In America”, an 11-minute Kierkegaardian state-of-the-union featuring backing vocals by longtime associate Antony Hegarty and containing a string of vignettes detailing the complacency of everyday Americans in the context of our modern society, punctuated by the unforgettable passage: “Some say our empire is passing. As all empires do. / And others haven’t a clue what time it is or where it goes or even where the clock is.”

“Many of the big American stories now, the most-told stories, are apocalyptic,” Anderson explains in the press material to Homeland. “They’re stories about how the world is getting hotter, more crowded, and dangerous. They’re about arctic floods and disappearing resources and entropy and the world winding down. And nobody knows whether all this is fiction or not.”

Nevertheless, regardless of where you stand politically, theologically or environmentally, or even with regards to the challenging, avant-garde nature of her sound, you cannot deny the power of Anderson’s Homeland, one of the most riveting and poignant accounts of post-9/11 America pop music has offered to date.

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