Album: Laurie Anderson

Life On A String, Nonesuch
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The Independent Culture

Though originating in Songs And Stories Of Moby Dick, her 1999 multi-media show based on Herman Melville's classic novel, Laurie Anderson's Life On A String sounds less homogeneous than the best of her earlier albums. Having struggled to develop a complete concept album from the stage show alone, she's wound up adding songs about bereavement ("Slip Away"), freedom ("Statue Of Liberty") and her NYC neighbourhood ("Washington Street") alongside the tracks directly concerning whales, and as a result the album seems distracted. The Moby Dick pieces are fine, particularly "Pieces And Parts", a song about the misapprehension of a leviathan fossil as the "bones of a fallen angel". Like the opening paean to the mystery of orcan music, "One White Whale", it testifies to the strangeness of a colossal beast that we rarely see entire: "We see him only in parts/A fountain, fins, a speck on the horizon". Unlike the whale, the discrete parts of Life On A String fail to cohere into a whole, despite the regularity of texture and tone provided by Anderson's monologues and a sonic palette leaning heavily on strings (including a rare string trio instrumental, "Here With You", of surprisingly sentimental tone). Van Dyke Parks brings his antique New World manner to "Dark Angel", and the likes of Dr John, Bill Frisell and Lou Reed also appear, though without much altering the course or mood of the album.