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Anderson again shows keen eye with Strange Angels

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STRANGE ANGELS

By Laurie Anderson.

Warner Brothers Records.

By MARK ROBERTS

THE RELEASE AT THE END The comment offers a clue to the form of the new album. After establishing a distinctive style of delivery in her earlier work that layered her beautiful speaking voice into an electronically distorted tapestry, Anderson decided that she wished to use more traditional musical forms in her new work rather than intoning the words in a spare chant. She took lessons in singing, and the result is striking. A very pure soprano emerges, surprisingly vulnerable compared to the knowing persona so often adopted. Electronic prestidigitation and speech have not been abandoned altogether, but the overriding impression is that Strange Angels

is a collection of songs, closer in format to a musical album than any of her previous records.

The quality of the words remains a constant strength of Anderson's work, as does her oblique observational stance. The concerns of the current album, reflecting the shift from technology to traditional musicianship in the performance and production, have become more intimate, more human, and less those of "big science." Where once we were told to "jump out of the plane; there is no pilot. . . ," Anderson now sings that "If I were the president. . . I'd give the ugly people all the money; I'd rewrite the book of love -- I'd make it funny." The other feature that this album has in common with earlier ones is its musical richness, culling themes and styles from around the world.

The title song is a rolling accordion swirl that pulses along, becoming a jig, while Anderson recounts "one of those days larger than life, when your friends came to dinner, and they stayed the night." One's first thought is not of Anderson as a maker of dance music, but this has such a sure grip on a layering of compelling rhythms that one is drawn to one's feet by it. "Baby Doll," Anderson's dialogue with her "really bossy" brain that demands to be taken to the ballgame, has been widely heard on the radio already, and it exemplifies a number of features to be found on other songs on the album. It's funny, and it's strange, and beautifully played. But it has some irritating mannerisms. Laurie Anderson comes closer to self caricature here than she has before. To those who dislike her, she personifies a trite, self congratulatory Manhattan arts scene cool. This seems most dangerously plausible when she swoops between her new singing voice and a blustery chat.

It's a pity that "Beautiful Red Dress" also has moments of this as the subject, menstruation, is one rarely addressed in song and the words are strong and subversive. "Well they say women shouldn't be the president/ Cause we go crazy from time to time/ Well push my button, baby/ Here I come/ Yeah look out, baby/ I'm at high tide," is a good verse, but the delivery in this song loses its impact in gimmicky vocal swoopings.

Some of the simpler pieces are the most successful, achieving some of the limpid beauty that so illuminated Big Science I will listen to Strange Angels