11 September 2010

Big Science - Laurie Anderson

Big Science is Laurie Anderson's first proper album release: a nine track studio recording which was released in 1982. You may have heard of Laurie's huge performance art show, United States Live, and each of the nine tracks are reworked versions of popular pieces from that show. One of them, track two, is the classic track O Superman, Laurie's surprise UK chart success, which made its way to number two after John Peel heard it and featured it on his radio show. Big Science recently celebrated its 25th anniversary with a remastered CD edition, now including the b-side to O Superman, the rather peculiar 'Walk The Dog', and the original O Superman video. (As part of the this 25th anniversary version, a track named Big Science 2 also appeared on iTunes; think of it as a remixed hybrid version of O Superman and the actual track Big Science.)

The Big Science sound is usually described as 'avant garde', and often considered to be 'electronic' music, although a quick glance at the credits list shows a surprising amount of live instruments are involved. The other problem with the 'avant garde' aspect is  that while you will undoubtely adore it and rapidly become filled with a desperate desire to play it for everyone else on the planet, your friends will look at you with utter disbelief. 'But it's Laurie Anderson!' you'll say, as though that explains everything: the mad vocoders, the weirdly repetitive saxophone bursts, the peculiar and slow handclaps over the top of Laurie's curious, spoken word delivery of her strangely poetic lyrics. Relax, if it doesn't grab them straight away it'll grow on them...

There are songs about sweaters, songs about the destruction of those places we all hold dear, songs about curtains, society crashing and burning. If it all sounds rather strange then that's fine; the whole album is strange. Never in a million years could you ever imagine it as a commercial release - that stage would come later in Laurie's career as she embraced actual singing, just for an album or two. At this early stage, though, everything's deadpan and, if you're quick enough to spot the jokes, occasionally rather amusing. Seriously, if you've not heard this album, do something about it now.

Big Science (1982, Warner Records):
1. From The Air
2. Big Science
3. Sweaters
4. Walking And Falling
5. Born, Never Asked
6. O Superman
7. Example #22
8. Let X = X
9. It Tango

2007 Version adds:
10. Walk The Dog
11. O Superman (Video)

Laurie Anderson: Vocals, Vocoder, Farfisa, violins, percussion, electronics, keyboard.
Roma Baran: Farfisa bass, glass harmonica.
Bill Obrecht: Alto sax.
Peter Gordon: Tenor sax, clarinet.
David Van Tieghem: Drums, percussion.
Rufus Harley: Bagpipes.
Perry Hoberman: Flute, sax.
Chuck Fisher: Alto and tenor sax.
Richard Cohen: Clarinets, bassoon, baritone sax.