[Review] Laurie Anderson: Strange Angels (1989)

strange angels album coverKronomyth 5.0: POP ART. Laurie sings! And the world doesn’t end. Maybe some pigs flew, I don’t know. They probably needed the exercise anyway. By most accounts, the result was a revelation: a very musical album from an “antimusical” musician. But to contradict the opening title track, it’s exactly like I thought it would be. Strange Angels isn’t that much different from Mister Heartbreak after all. It’s chatty, smart, funny. Groundbreaking? Not really. Peter Gabriel brought African music into the digital age on Security and So, David Byrne took it to South America several times, and Laurie Anderson retraces their footsteps on Strange Angels. The difference is that Laurie is the better listener, internally and externally. She stumbles on big truths and little epiphanies, wraps them here in jewel-encrusted boxes and dazzled a whole lot of people with the offering. Throw away the box, though, and it’s another “Langue d’Amour” or “From The Air.” What I think attracts people to Strange Angels is the musical packaging. It’s by the far the prettiest record she’s made, and thus the most charming. “Babydoll” and “My Eyes” are seductive pop songs; complicated under the surface, sure, but for the first time Laurie is giving audiences the opportunity to opt out of the social study and simply enjoy the music. Yet it’s when audiences enjoy the album on both levels (surface and substance) that Strange Angels weaves its best magic. I got as much of a kick out of her earlier music (Big Science, Mister Heartbreak), and can find the beauty in ugliness just as easily, so for me Strange Angels is simply the same wonderful gift wrapped in different paper. It’s lovely paper, shiny and colorful, so you may want to unwrap it first.

Original LP Version
A1. Strange Angels (3:51)
A2. Monkey’s Paw (4:33)
A3. Coolsville (4:34)
A4. Ramon (5:03)
A5. Babydoll (3:38)
B1. Beautiful Red Dress (4:43)
B2. The Day The Devil (Laurie Anderson/Peter Lawrence Gordon) (4:00)
B3. The Dream Before (3:03)
B4. My Eyes (5:29)
B5. Hiawatha (6:53)

Words and music by Laurie Anderson unless noted.

The Players
Laurie Anderson (vocals, keyboards, percussion, drum programming), Dave Lebolt (keyboards) with Manolo Badrena (percussion), Phil Ballou (back-up vocals), Cyro Baptista (percussion on B1), Joey Baron (drums on B5), Jimmy Bralower (drum programming), Bill Buchen (percussion on B2), Angela Clemmons (choir on B2), Crusher (percussion on A5), Lew Del Gatto (baritone sax), Bennie Diggs (back-up vocals, choir director), Mark Dresser (bass on B5), Mark Egan (bass on A2), Anton Fier (drums on A4), Lisa Fischer (back-up vocals), Alex Foster (alto sax), Laurie Frink (trumpet), Steve Gadd (drums), Earl Gardner (trumpet), Sue Hadjopoulos (percussion), Scott Johnson (guitar), Robby Kilgore (bass and keyboards), Kenny Kosek (violin on A1), Bakithi Khumalo (fretless bass), Yolanda Lee (back-up vocals on A2), Tony Levin (Chapman stick on B2), Eric Liljestrand (drum programming), Arto Lindsay (guitar on B1), Hugh McCracken (harmonica on A1), Bobby McFerrin (vocals), Paulette Williams (choir on B2), BJ Nelson (back-up vocals), Leon Pendarvis (drum programming on A5), Ray Phirl (guitar), Lenny Pickett (tenor sax, sax, horn arrangement), Ian Ritchie (percussion programming on A2), Maggie, Suzzy and Terre Roche (back-up vocals), Peter Scherer (keyboards, bass, drum programming), John Selolwane (guitar), Chris Spedding (guitar on B2), David Spinozza (guitar on A5), Mike Thorne (keyboards, percussion programming), Jimi Tunnell (guitar on B4), Steve Turre (trombone, conch shell), “Blue” Gene Tyranny (keyboards), David Van Tieghem (percussion on A3), Darryl Tookes (choir on B2), Nana Vansconcelos (percussion on A2), Gib Wharton (pedal steel on A1), Diane Wilson (choir on B2), Tom “T-Bone” Wolk (accordion on A1). Produced by Laurie Anderson and Roma Baran with Mike Thorne, Ian Ritchie, Peter Scherer, Arto Lindsay and Leon Pendarvis; mixing by Josh Abbey, Bob Clearmountain, Neil Dorfsman, Jay Healy; additional recording by Josh Abbey, Scott Ansell, James Farber, Mike Krowiak, Jeff Lippay, Dominick Maita, Francis Manzella, Roger Moutenot, Malcolm Pollack, Tom Size.

The Pictures
Design by M&Co. Photography by Robert Mapplethorpe.

The Plastic
Released on elpee, cassette and compact disc on October 17, 1989 in the US (Warner Bros., 25900), the UK (Warner Bros.,WX-258/C), Canada (Warner Bros., 92 59001) and Germany (Warner Bros., 925 900-1/2) with lyrics innersleeve; reached #171 on the US charts.

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