Artist: Laurie Anderson
Title: Mr Heartbreak
Label: Warner Bros
Catalogue Number: 25077-1
Year of Release: 1984
Two things I know about Laurie Anderson - 1) She's a performance artist, and 2) She did that O Superman tune that The Future Sound of London dropped to great effect in their Essential Mix of 1995.
I bought this record off ebay the other day, because it has William Burroughs on it, and it was cheap.
If you want to know more about Laurie, then you could do worse that visit this site. Small amounts of research have taught me a few more things - she is now romantically linked to Lou Reed, whose track Christmas in February is on my 2006 Christmas Mix (plug, plug), and she invented the tape-bow violin, which is an instrument I would like to see in action.
Back to this album for a minute, to marvel at the array of guest musicians - Peter Gabriel and Bill Laswell being the two biggest names, but there's upwards of twenty other folk on this album, including the wonderfully-named Daniel Ponce, who plays iya, ikonkolo, shekere and "double bell from Cameroon" - so-called to distinguish it from the more common single bell of Cameroon, obviously, or the double bell of Equatorial Guinea, which is tonally quite similar.
Here be the tracklisting:
A1 Sharkey's Day
A2 Langue D'Amour
A3 Gravity's Angel
B2 Excellent Birds
B3 Blue Lagoon
B4 Sharkey's Night
There are some reviews of it on Amazon which might give you a better flavour of it than I'm about to. You can also listen to snippets of the tracks (which I consider a pointless exercise and ultimately devaluing to the work as a whole, but I think I might be alone in that regard).
I was surprised, first of all, by how un-eighties it sounded. There were a few giveaways in the synth sounds and slap-bass, but the album still sounds fresh, inventive, and new. I think the lack of verse-chorus-verse structure in any of the songs helps, if you could call them songs at all, mostly being spoken. The lyrics themselves are obscure, literary, disjointed and sometimes in other languages. Musically, it's like nothing else I own, except perhaps the Joanna Newsom album Ys, if JN had spoken her lyrics, and had a synthesizer or two instead of a harp - but even that's not quite right. There's maybe a link to be made to Robert Wyatt's later stuff too, but one of mood rather than anything else.
William Burroughs contributes the vocals to the final track Sharkey's Night, which has some heinous slap-bass, but recovers with some excellent chopping-guitar noises - Burroughs drawls, as he does, over the top. I bought the album because he was on it, but it's not the highlight, it simply fits well into the album, which is one I would recommend.