Label: Nonesuch Records
Laurie Anderson’s new record, Homeland, is not heavy. Kierkegaard is heavy. Descartes, Sartre and Voltaire are heavy. Debates about oil spills, Genesis and abortion are heavy. Homeland, on the other hand, is heavier than just heavy. It’s a philosophical, political and poetic salutation to all that’s wrong with this country and unexplained in this world, a deeply ponderous, starkly-arranged submersion into the heart of America’s fears, where poverty looms only a missing paycheck around the corner, financial markets crash and 90 year-old married couples wait for their kids to croak before getting divorced. In other words, it’s a monumental, artistic and unforgettable accomplishment that’s both worldly and personal, the type of creative endeavor that only multimedia’s resident philosopher-queen could deliver.
And I couldn’t stand most of it.
Not that I don’t recognize its art-music appeal. Anderson alternates between violin, keyboards and percussion throughout, incorporating vocal styles that range from the songbird delicacy of “My Right Eye” and “Falling” to the deep masculinity and eerie distortion (thanks to her self-invented “audio drag” voice filter) of the post-apocalyptic spoken word track “Another Day in America.” A self-described “concert poem,” equal parts politics, music and strange dreams, Homeland’s areas of focus include wartime torture devices, global domination, beheadings, hangings, hurricanes, snowstorms and a variety of other natural and unnatural disasters, placed alongside open-ended statements about the essence of time, motion, memory and all life’s other untouchable mysteries. To the credit of Anderson and co-producers Roma Baran and Lou Reed (Anderson’s husband), the overtly political tracks like the scathing “Only An Expert” and “Dark Time in the Revolution” are supplanted by more personal efforts (“Strange Perfumes,” “Bodies in Motion”) that show glimpses of the human being underneath the ultra-liberal-poster-girl-for-the-new-revolution exterior.
Nevertheless, with the risk of sounding like a musical dilettante, this record just doesn’t do it for me. The lyrics may run deep and the sounds vary from primordial chanting and classical to nouveaux jazz and techno pop, but very little about this record sucks me in or makes me want to add it to my permanent music collection. Homeland is certainly more art than music, and the music lover in me can’t help but wonder why a record that includes the Tuvan throat singers of Chirgilchin, three additional keyboardists and an array of experimental rock and jazz contributors is often arranged so sparsely. The minimalist compositions certainly place an extra emphasis on Anderson’s often profound observations (“And by the way here’s my theory of punctuation/ Instead of a period at the end of each sentence/ There should be a clock that tells you how long it took to write that sentence“), but the music also feels misplaced at times, as the highbrow classical arrangements often stand in awkward contrast to Anderson’s predominantly foreboding lyrics.
Homeland never really approaches empathy, as Anderson – though easy to appreciate – is equally impossible to relate to, coming off as emotionless, robotic and unnaturally flawless to a fault. If you’re a serious person who’s into serious issues and serious artists with serious axes to grind, Anderson’s overly refined style may suit you perfectly. If you’re anything like me, though, Homeland might make you feel like you’ve stumbled into a fine art gallery wearing tattered blue jeans or that you’re an unwanted guest at one of Jackie Treehorn’s garden parties.