Laurie Anderson: Home Of The Brave

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IT’S A BOGUS theatricality in American life which gives us a pop star like Laurie Anderson. And Home Of The Brave – latest in a line of soundtrack packages scissored together with the aid of guitar, flute, saxophone, keyboards, foreign languages, Vocoders, harmonizers, Synclaviers, Linndrums, knives, forks, and bells – does nothing to enlarge the shrinking smirk of her turf.

The credits may read like a muse’s celebrity call (Adrian Belew, David Van Tiegham, Dolette MacDonald and the dreaded William S. Burroughs), but its eight tracks play like a vocational art exercise set to cut-rate John Cage.

Since 1980 and ‘O Superman’, Laurie Anderson has extorted maximum mileage from her “performance artist” label. And, in the flesh, with her gags, slides, and flourescent footwear, she puts on a solid and entertaining multi-media show. But a performance artist she is not. Performance art embraces flux; it is about the variables involved in experience. (Just check the cuttings of performance artists like Hannah Wilke, Vito Acconci and Chris Burden, each the “inspiration” behind some specific homage from Ms. Anderson). Anderson’s ouevre, petrified into albums, repetitive anecdotes, and now film, is all means to an end: celebrity.

Hence this new mess of patchy tunes, breathy intonations, “evocative” snatches of recognizable music (i.e., simple melodies fluffed out with multipart backing harmonies or bouncy basslines) and organized noise. Like all Anderson’s work, it parades high-art pretensions – only to deliver the goods tailored to cozily accessible dimensions. The worst feature of the whole package is its organizing principle: ironic humor.

This kind of ironic is how you sound when you’ve lowered every expectation. And that’s what makes Home Of The Brave (an intentionally ironic title of course) such depressing, redundant stuff. “Ah desire!” breathes the album’s opener, ‘Smoke Rings’. “First it’s red. Then it’s blue. And every time I see an iceberg, it reminds me of you.” Robert Johnson this is not. And no kind of “conceptual” approach will work to dress up this LP’s lyrical content.

Which is ironic, since “art” is obviously Anderson’s god. Like every good culture vulture, she points up each borrowed reference, each pilfered lick and quote. But there are fewer here than even on ’84’s Mister Heartbreak; like all assimilators who refuse to run any risks, Anderson faces a shortage of raw material. The result: repeated tricks or extensions of already-exposed ideas (here, ‘Language Is A Virus’ and another Sharkey song, ‘Sharkey’s Night’.)

Every parody steals its energy from another source, and Anderson’s persona is too caught up in detachment to beef things up with instincts of her own. So Home Of The Brave ends up a bad, bitter-sounding joke. Which explains the nasty edge to Laurie’s lament – Side one, track four – about the people who now look at her in the street and say, “Oh no! Not another Laurie Anderson clone!” Given the quality of this album, she won’t have to suffer much longer.

© Cynthia RoseCreem, August 1986

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