Deep Dive: Laurie Anderson, LIFE ON A STRING

Tuesday, June 5, 2018
Laurie Anderson, LIFE ON A STRING

Today we celebrate the birthday of Laura Phillips Anderson, better known as Laurie, the legendary art rocker and avant-garde artist who’s arguably best known by mainstream audiences for finding her way to the penultimate spot on the UK Singles chart with her 1981 single “O Superman.” In honor of Anderson’s birthday, however, we’re taking a look at an album from her discography which isn’t as well known but is still well worth a listen if you’re a fan of her work. 

Recorded at New York City’s Lobby Studios and co-produced by Anderson and Hal Willner, LIFE ON A STRING was released in August 2001, a half-dozen years after her previous studio album, 1995’s THE UGLY ONE WITH THE JEWELS AND OTHER STORIES. Less spoken-word than musical, which is a descriptor that can’t always be used for Anderson’s LPs, the album featured contributions from a variety of notable musicians, including Mitchell Froom, Van Dyke Parks, Mocean Worker, and Anderson’s husband, Lou Reed. It also borrowed three songs from Anderson’s show Songs and Stories from Moby Dick: “One White Whale,” “The Island Where I Come From,” and “Pieces and Parts,” which are – probably not coincidentally – the first three tracks on the album. 

“The sound is a new and intriguing development for Anderson,” Stewart Mason wrote of the album on “An accomplished violin player who previously had only used the instrument pretty much as a prop, Anderson fills all of these songs with front-and-center string sections that provide an entirely different texture for her usual meandering melodies.” 

In her review of the album on, Krista L. May also offered praise: “The haunting melodies and string arrangements enhance the CD's contemplative mood, bringing us into the artist's reverie about emotional pain and art's dependence on such painful experiences. All of this is good stuff -- thought provoking and oddly inspiring because it can help to bring about an understanding of loss and can provide insight into what seems to be insurmountable suffering.” 

Did Anderson’s fans enjoy LIFE ON A STRING as much as the critics? Well, here’s hoping so, since it took nine years for her to release her next studio album, HOMELAND! Thankfully, she’s moving a little quicker of late: her new album with the Kronos Quartet, LANDFALL, was released earlier this year, which means it was only eight years between albums this time.

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