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Laurie Anderson - Big Science CD (album) cover


Laurie Anderson

Crossover Prog

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5 stars When I noticed this CD in my father's collection, I was quite puzzled by the cover : this short-haired woman, wearing suit and cravat and glasses painted in white, looked like an eccentric scientist trying to do her way through the bureaucracy... Or was she a former civil servant discovering the joys of science fiction? And these song titles! ''Example#22'', ''Let X=X / It Tango'', ''Big Science'', ''O Superman''... Strange equations, indeed. Of course, the biggest shock came from the music itself : was it a Pop record? Was it any kind of avant-garde? Maybe it was Pop music as we SHOULD hear it nowadays in the 21th century...

The first track, ''From the Air'', opens the album with samples of an electronically altered voice whose ''a-ha-a-ah'' line acts like a weird bass part just before the drums enter to perform a hardly danceable yet very circular rhythm. A saxophone rips the air, sticking to the rhythm. Only then, a voice appears, recitating more than singing: ''This is your captain speaking... We're all falling down...''. The keyboards weave a subtle cocoon while the ''captain'' goes on and seems not to be willing to reassure the passengers... ''We're all falling down''...

''Big Science'', the second track, may begin with a very realistic wolf's howling, it offers nevertheless a more peaceful atmosphere, like if the narrator was going to the center of the town walking upon a snowy path... Everything sounds so quiet (but does it look quiet?)...

And, then, the harshness strikes back on ''Sweaters'', the third track! The lyrics seem normal, for once: the end of a relationship, yet narrated with drums and bagpipe! A short, striking, nearly vindicative piece, if it wasn't for the voice which seems to hesitate between a cold-tempered declaration (''Your sweaters/I no longer love them'') and animal-like weepings. You can sing it next time you want to break up with someone, knowing it will be painful for both of you.

The two following tracks work together: ''Walking, Then Falling'' is a spoken-word short piece (do I hear a tiny, microscopic synthetical background sound? Do I also spot a description of a deliverance in these lyrics?), and ''Born, Never Asked'' is an instrumental. But, with such a title, it sounds like a philosophical statement: keyboards, violins and claves play a cold melody on a simple rythm, because you just can't sing that enormous declaration:''No, I've never asked to born''. The melody is far from any joy, from any despair, from any feeling: it just describes the plain facts.

Then, ''O Superman''... The haunting pantings, the electronic, disincarnate voice beginning with this simple invocation: ''O Superman''... This strange story of a phone call which seems to start as a prank and, soon, reveals its hideous face: that thing which wants to be called ''Mother'' and rocks your cradle with ''[its] petrochemical arms, [its] military arms''...

And now, for something completely different, the whole band starts a joyful tune, full of brasses, ''The sun is shining'', Anderson is even singing ''La la laaaa la'' like an excited child, even if the tape plays voices from the outerworld speaking backwards! But, hey, you like to dance, don't you?

The eigth and final piece is another medley with an electronic voice singing weird lyrics... that I still try to understand more than a dozen years after discovering this song! On the ''Let X=X'' section, the claves and the synths join forces again on a solid linear rythm, a bit like in ''Born, Never Asked'' but warmer, only to be joined by the trombone of Georges Lewis on ''It Tango'', creating a sensation of ascension. The musical background becomes a procession crammed in the studio and opening outer dimensions through this tiny studio.

And, then, the record is over. And you wonder what you just heard. And you wonder if you want to listen to it again. And you wonder... Maybe Kraftwerk was just the beginning? Maybe the Residents were just a step?Maybe even Brian Eno isn't that focused? And you wonder if there's any other record which sounds like this one. And you already expect the answer.

Report this review (#646671)
Posted Monday, March 5, 2012 | Review Permalink
RIO/Avant/Zeuhl,Neo & Post/Math Teams
5 stars A purple halo around a woman. she makes sex and the purple halo is now around a man. He injects him heroin together with friends and the purple halo is multiplied. The purple is the only visible color in a black and white film and the hypnotic vocoder of Laurie Anderson's "O Superman" permeates the first spot against AIDS put on air by the Italian TV.

This is how Laurie Anderson became very famous in Italy. Big Science had also a quite good commercial success despite the fact that's not an easy album. We all still associate that song with the purple halo.

Said so, this first album of this very unusual artist (there's a previous one but it was a 3 people collaboration effectively) was a surprise. Released in 1982, in the middle of the worst period of the music history this jewel appeared from nowhere. I don't know if she was already married to Lou Reed and what relationship she actually had with, but the first thing that her music makes me think about is Terry Riley.

Riley is a sort of modern classical composer and he wasn't using electronics when he composed "In C", but Laurie's approach to music is surely minimalistic and Riley is a recognized influence for Velvet Underground.

This album is weird and funny, too. There's a pilot calmly announcing the the aircraft is falling down to his passengers over a rocking electronic base "disturbed" by a jazzy sax a little out of tune so to create a strange dissonance which reminds me of Carla Bley.

There are melodic moments (track 2 and 8), the avantgarde of "Sweaters", played by pipes and drums, there's the hypnotic soundscape of violin and marimba on "Born, Never Asked" and a jazzy crazy patchwork made of spoken sentences in German which makes me think to the minimalistic period of Battiato (m.mlle Le Gladiatour) , there is some Basic language (LET X=X) ....well it could also be that "It Tango" could be interpreted as "IT" Tango.

However this album is amazing, especially thinking to the year of its release. A masterpiece? I don't know, but I don't think anybody will be upset if I round up my 4.5 stars

Report this review (#830002)
Posted Friday, September 28, 2012 | Review Permalink
3 stars Laurie Anderson's debut solo album consists of her intoning her spoken word prose poems over a musical backing which reminds me of some of Brian Eno's ambient pop works (such as Another Green World). Essentially an edited extract from United States - a truly epic spoken word, music and performance art piece eventually issued in a 5-LP/4CD set some years after this came out - it's an intriguing album with a chilly, emotionless, analytical atmosphere. It certainly isn't the sort of material I can see myself spinning on a regular basis, but I can respect the musical vision at work here - it's just not going to hook you unless your aesthetic tastes happen to sync both with the minimalistic approach Anderson goes for and the stark production values.
Report this review (#856081)
Posted Saturday, November 10, 2012 | Review Permalink
siLLy puPPy
PSIKE, JRF/Canterbury, P Metal, Eclectic
4 stars Having fallen for the bizarre charm of LAURIE ANDERSON with "Bright Red" I recently lucked out and found her near complete studio output at our used music store for a very nice price. Having wondered if I only like her because of the Eno collaboration on that album, I thought i'd give her another try. I am surprised that I like her debut release BIG SCIENCE because when I listened to a couple tracks on YouTube a while back I was left unimpressed. Well the lesson for me is that never judge a book by only reading two pages. They happened to be the two tracks that I like the least. The rest of the album is very good. I am always impressed when an artist can carve out their own unique little nook in the musical universe and LAURIE ANDERSON has done just that and not only has she done so but she successfully throws together a diverse bunch of sounds, rhythms and melodies that play well together.

The first "From The Air" is one of tracks I didn't like when I heard it on YouTube, but now I find it humorous as i've warmed up to her sound. Next up is the title track where the album gets interesting. LAURIE displays her unique ability to use spoken word with strange musical backings. On here we get a drony synth line with sticks and harmonicas and percussion. Not gonna go into track by track but throughout this album we get bagpipes, bongo drums, saxophones, accordions, farfisa bass, casiotone, bottles, handclaps, piccolo, clarinet, rototoms, marimba and several instruments that LAURIE constructed herself. Despite being minimalist in terms of composition, there is great diversity in the sound textures which has made this a highly sampled album by hip hop artists.

For example, on her huge hit "O Superman" which actually hit #2 on the UK charts, she constructed a specially modified violin that has a recording head on it that makes weird sounds. She also uses a vocoder to alter her voice. Her lyrics are semi-hilarious and semi-serious just like her vocal style is kind of a semi-spoken, semi-sung type. This is a very strange album made all the stranger by realizing it came out in the 80s when there was nothing even remotely close to this. In fact there probably still isn't. LAURIE ANDERSON has found a place where no one else has dared to tread. Hypnotic, melodic, profound and downright silly. All these adjectives come to mind when i'm listening to this. An excellent taste of the avant-garde art pop that works on different levels.

Report this review (#1235266)
Posted Tuesday, August 5, 2014 | Review Permalink

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