Big Science

Laurie Anderson

Warner Brothers, 1982

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


I do not understand “performance art.” I mean, I get that there is a specific statement the artist tries to make with their work, but getting to that point is far beyond my grasp. I am sure there are others far more intelligent than I who would look down at me and scoff—and, quite frankly, I’m okay with that. To me, as long as I made the effort, it should count for something.

It is with this mindset that, upon my scanning the racks of CDs at the local thrift store, I stumbled upon Big Science, the 1982 full-length debut from Laurie Anderson. This one not only eventually lodged itself in the middle of the Billboard charts, but it actually spawned a charting hit with “O Superman”... so, I decided to give it a try.

Now, mind you, I’ve listened to a lot—and I mean a lot—of weird shit over the course of my time on the planet. And, I’m not going to say that Anderson is the weirdest artist whose path I’ve crossed... but she’s definitely high on the list. Anderson could be seen as the female version of Lou Reed—that is, someone who you either get or you don’t, and they don’t really give a damn either way. (Not surprisingly, Anderson and Reed were married for the final five years of Reed’s life.)my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The key to Big Science is its minimalism, both in instrumentation and vocal delivery. For Anderson, they all take a back seat to the overall picture of the work of art itself. And, in retrospect, we could be at a disadvantage in that the tracks on this album are selections from a larger piece of Anderson’s work, United States I-IV. I’ve never had the courage to purchase, much less tackle, that one, so I can’t prove this theory... but I suspect some things might have been a little clearer had they been heard as parts of the whole.

In this case, though, we’re left with these nine selections, and I'm not going to lie, they can be difficult to get through. But there are indeed moments where one kind of gets an idea where Anderson was going with these tracks, as well as are others that still leave me scratching my head.

“O Superman” is surprisingly addictive in its own electronic, minimalist way, and one might be surprised to find that, before one knows it, just over eight minutes have elapsed. And, in a way, one can understand how a truncated version of this song actually made the charts. Similarly, tracks like “Walking & Falling” (which dares to be philosophical about the nature of everyday life a la Douglas Adams), “Born, Never Asked” and “Let X=X” are works that, if you’re not careful, you might find yourself getting into.

This can’t necessarily be said about Big Science as a whole. “From The Air” kinda gets things off to a shaky start, while “Example # 22” doesn't really capture the listener as well as some of its companion pieces.

Unless you’ve been following Anderson for some time or you’re really into this kind of scene, Big Science is not an album you’re going to immediately get into—and it certainly isn’t one that will get lots of replay value on your sound system. But there is something about this album that is strangely addictive, and while I still can’t explain what made me take a chance on this one, I’m actually glad I did. Even if I still missed the entire picture of what Anderson was trying to impart here.

Big Science is by no means an easy listen, but if you keep an open mind about it, it proves to be a worthwhile one.

Rating: B

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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