Picks and Pans Review: Mister Heartbreak
Like a sorceress, Laurie Anderson wafts smoke and gauze before your eyes, using percussion and the synthesizers whose potential she understands better than almost anyone: the Vocoder and the Synclavïer. She hints that beneath her wry, cool humor, the patience of her speaking voice, the sly pauses, the precisely enunciated final consonants, the mystery and the innuendo, an iceberg of meaning lurks. She is so much a minimalist, though, that sometimes it's less an iceberg than an ice cube. In Langue d'Amour (Tongue of Love), for instance, she retells the Adam and Eve story. The aural environment (as it is throughout the album) is simple but extraordinary, featuring a sound somewhere between a calliope and the whistlelike pipes of Pan. After talking with the snake, "the woman" becomes fascinated by its tongue licking like a "little fire inside his mouth" and from then on is "bored with the man. Because no matter what happened (pause) he was always as (pause) happy as (pause) a clam." Anderson's technique of slowly building to a cliché and placing it in an unexpected context produces not only a laugh but a feeling of encountering an expression for the first time. But in the end her Genesis tale doesn't raise any new ideas; it just recycles the old ignorance-is-bliss dilemma in the story. Sharkey's Night, with a spoken vocal by novelist William S. Burroughs (who sounds like an educated redneck), insinuates even more and accomplishes even less. Creating a provocative atmosphere—a "concept"—is largely what today's hip art scene is about. That's one reason Anderson has developed such an ardent following. Another is that nobody else working with aural and visual images is doing it as well, or even in the same way. It is tempting, however, to turn a cliché against her and ask on occasion for more matter, less art. (Warner Brothers)
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