Only Laurie Anderson, the violin-playing poet laureate of American estrangement, could make an industrial-tinged club banger that dives into the following topics with clear-eyed passion, anguish and humor: America’s blind trust in authority; the media’s appetite for spectacle; the subprime mortgage collapse and the ensuing domino effect on the market; and U.S. policies of preemptive invasion and detention without trial. Phew — got all that? Thank goodness you can dance to it, or else you might crumple to the floor in tears.
For every overtly political turn like “Only an Expert,” Anderson, on her first studio album in nine years, includes an atmospheric meditation on modern existence or, sometimes, love, giving the title, “Homeland,” resonance beyond the nationalistic meaning.
On “Strange Perfumes,” one of the songs with vocals from kindred New York artist Antony Hegarty, she sings, “Where does love go when love is gone? To what war-torn city?” It perfectly evokes the level of deep symbolism that Anderson’s working on throughout “Homeland,” one where war is not only a tragedy in and of itself but a metaphor for other states of loss or alienation.
Produced by Anderson, her husband Lou Reed and Roma Baran, “Homeland” was sewn together from bits mostly recorded from improvisations on tour.
The performance artist road-tested the album’s powerful narratives for more than two years, bringing in performers including avant-garde saxophonist John Zorn and experimental electronic musician Kieran Hebden of Four Tet.
It’s a fascinating way of putting together a work that has a profoundly nomadic feel — from the opening song “Transitory Life” to the natively wandering Tuvan throat singers who appear on certain tracks to Anderson’s own roaming proclivities between music, art, political activism, all tying into a world of breathless ideas.
“Homeland” isn’t so much an album as it is a poetic capturing of the still moments of a restless mind.