Laurie Anderson: ‘United States Live’ Album Review

Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

It is hard to believe that this album is 32-years old. It sounds fresh. It sounds innovative. It was ground breaking when it was released in 1984. The concert itself was recorded between February 7 and 10 in 1983. The recording is of Laurie Anderson’s performance art piece United States that took place at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. This sprawling four part composition spans five albums and clocks in at 261 minutes and 57 seconds. That’s well over four hours of thought provoking music and words. The original show was reputed to have been around eight (8) hours in length.

But unlike some experimental works, or progressive rock, this is not a rambling mishmash of pompous flourishes or ego-driven virtuosity. In United States, Anderson plays the storyteller in this piece. Unsurprisingly, the album and the performance piece is about life in the United States, the themes of alienation.

There are whimsical observations, there is humour, there is sentimentality, there is horror, and there is provocation on this album. All of this is presented with a melange of music that ranges from minimalistic to pop, to avant-garde to quite unlistenable noise. Anderson makes all this work in a calm smooth narrative style way of presenting each individual work as but a segment of the whole.

Musically, this stands out as there are none of the standard 1980’s musical clichés present on this massive album. There are lots of synthesized sounds here, but you would be hard-pressed to date their sounds. The voice box that she uses to change her voice sounds a bit old, but that is probably only because I am so familiar with it.

It is hard to give a perfect score to an album but I can’t find a flaw here. This album makes me wish that I was in Brooklyn back in 1983 to be able to witness the shows. This album makes me wish that the large record companies would take a risk on interesting artists. This album was released by Warner Brothers, who are truly innovative and not just carbon copies of what has so many ‘likes’ and ‘friends’ on social media.