[Review] Laurie Anderson: Mister Heartbreak (1984)

The more ear-opening (if less eye-opening) followup to Laurie’s first album.

Kronomyth 2.0: The great commission.

In my middle doughy age, prior to the proper dotage that awaits me, I mused that Laurie Anderson plus a backing band of alternative rock stars equalled pure left-handed Heaven, an observation occasioned no doubt by Mister Heartbreak’s stylish handshake, “Sharkey’s Day.” After that handshake, however, Anderson returns to the haunts of her earlier work, mixing minimalist accompaniment with all the warmth of a low-wattage lightbulb and words like shadows, weightless and ominous. “Langue d’Amour” and “Blue Lagoon” favor the primitive, powerful style of her earlier work. “Gravity’s Angel” sounds like it was deconstructed and reconstructed with the wrong parts, which is what a lot of Bill Laswell’s music feels like to me. “Kokoku” is a collaboration with kayagum artist Sang Won Park, who had recently emigrated to New York City and insinuated himself with the avant-garde elite. The album’s second collaboration, “Excellent Birds,” is the most boring thing on here. It’s a case of Peter Gabriel appropriating Anderson’s art for his own designs, with her consent I’m sure, but birds of a feather they’re not. The album closes with Anderson doing Burroughs doing himself on “Sharkey’s Night.”

O Superman, where art thou?
“O Superman” is a miracle of music. The trouble with miracles is that they cease to be miracles the second time around. You’ve seen it happen once, so you know it can happen again. Eventually, the miraculous act becomes a matter of fact. There are some miraculous moments on Mister Heartbreak, but they seem like minor epiphanies in the shadow of Big Science. Maybe the biggest epiphanies are that Laurie Anderson can rock and roll and sing. But the album doesn’t achieve anything musically that Talking Heads didn’t already achieve on Remain In Light. Their excellencies Laurie Anderson and Peter Gabriel? Lol Creme and Kevin Godley bested them by a few years on Ismism’s “Ready For Ralph.” Mister Heartbreak is a very smart album made by a very smart lady who had attracted a coterie of high-profile admirers and the cachet to make the art she wanted on a big budget. It’s not a breakthrough moment, it’s not a standing in place, it’s a plain commission with a song about birds.

Original elpee version

A1. Sharkey’s Day (7:41)
A2. Langue d’Amour (6:12)
A3. Gravity’s Angel (6:02)
B1. Kokoku (7:03)
B2. Excellent Birds (Peter Gabriel/Laurie Anderson) (3:12)
B3. Blue Lagoon (7:03)
B4. Sharkey’s Night (2:29)

All songs written by Laurie Anderson unless noted.

The Players

Laurie Anderson (vocals, Synclavier, violin, whistle, electronic conches, Vocoder, bell, percussion), Bill Laswell (bass) with Adrian Belew (guitar), Bill Blaber (soprano on B3), William S. Burroughs (vocals on B4), Michelle Cobbs (back-up vocals on A1), Anton Fier (drums, toms, woodblock), Peter Gabriel (back-up vocals, vocals, Synclavier, Linn drum), Connie Harvey (Japanese chorus on B1), Dolette McDonald (back-up vocals on A1), Brenda Nelson (back-up vocals on A1), Daniel Ponce (iya, ikonkolo, shekere & double bell from the Cameroons on A1), Nile Rodgers (guitar on B2), Phoebe Snow (back-up vocals on B1), David Van Tieghem (plywood, bowls, Simmons drums, drums, steel drum, gato, bamboo), Sang Won Park (kayagum on B1), Janet Wright (Japanese chorus on B1), Atsuko Yuma (back-up vocals on B1). Produced by Laurie Anderson, Bill Laswell, Roma Baran, Peter Gabriel; engineered by Leanne Ungar; technical consultant and systems design by Bob Bielecki; mixing help by Bill Laswell.

The Pictures

Cover and inner sleeve art and graphics by Laurie Anderson.

The Plastic

Released on elpee, cassette and compact disc on February 14, 1984 in the US (Warner Bros., 25077), the UK and Germany (Warner Bros., 925 077), Brazil (Warner Bros., 6047 044), Canada (Warner Bros., 92 50771) and Japan (Warner Bros., P-11442) with lyrics innersleeve. Reached #60 on the US charts and #93 on the UK charts.

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