Music Reviews

Laurie Anderson Homeland

(Nonesuch) Buy it from Insound Rating - 9/10


“It takes a long time for a mouse to realize he’s in a trap
But once he does, something inside of him never stops trembling”
I don’t know about you, but I’ve had my fill of pundits telling me what’s going on and what I should think about it. I’ve been desperate for artists of stature to say something about the world we’re living in, which to my senses is not Barack Obama’s world so much as Thomas Pynchon’s. His was the prophetic voice of the information age, where They know what you’re doing and why, much better than you do. Think about that the next time you get an email ad tailored to your specific interests, interests that maybe only your closest friends know about. Something inside of you may never stop trembling either.
Laurie Anderson has always been sui generis – a singer of no small talent who usually chooses to speak instead. But whether speaking or singing, she has an uncannily seductive presence. She’s not a musician with a take it or leave it attitude. She’s trying to draw you in, to confide in you, to win you over, not by telling you what you want to hear, but by speaking truth in such a way as to make you unable to resist. This sort of direct expression can make the average music listener wince. I think most people consume their music like they consume their food, quickly and with enough seasoning to cover up the empty calories underneath. Put another way, Anderson is like someone who slowly enters your personal space, stares you in the eye with a smile rather than a threat, and tells you something deeply personal. Most folks don’t want to deal with someone like that. 
With all the talk about bankers and empires, you might want to dismiss all this as a typical leftist critique, but Anderson isn’t really addressing politics on this record.  It’s called Homeland, but rather than rail about Dick Cheney being a proto-fascist, she’s telling you how it feels to live in a place that refers to itself as the Homeland. Home is where you belong and others don’t, but it leaves the question hanging in the air – is this your home? Or are you just a visitor, or worse, an interloper? Or maybe it is your home and someone has come in while you were sleeping and rearranged the furniture. And then you’ll feel like a stranger in your own home and, in her words, completely out of control. A lot of people feel this way, hippies and tea-partiers alike, and Anderson is speaking for all of them. “Maybe if I fall asleep”, she sings in Falling, reflecting how most of us cope with this reality. 
The Middle Eastern instrumentation and vocals that tinge the album are not just flourishes; they exist to imagine an alternate reality; one of coexistence and cooperation. She never says this outright, thank god, but she doesn’t have to. They are also there to charm you, because this record is expansive in its own way. The melodic fragments and the underpinning harmonies are conventional and attractive. She even lets loose with a techno beat on Only an Expert, urging you to dance to the death of common sense. But you’re not going to enjoy this record casually; you need to dive in and float around for a while. Then you’ll feel a slight pain in your heart during Another Day in America, as Anderson, sounding like the dying HAL 9000 computer, recounts the mess we’ve made for ourselves, and concludes with this:
“And you know the reason I really love the stars,
Is that we cannot hurt them”
And that “hurt” hits you like a Dutch dropkick in the chest, before she finally laments,
“But we are reaching for them,
We are reaching for them”