Laurie Anderson – Mister Heartbreak

Listen to “Gravity’s Angel

Watch “Sharkey’s Day

Laurie Anderson’s success with Big Science and the “O Superman” single obviously motivated her to make an actual, fleshed out music album outside of her sprawling United States I-IV conceptual art project. She also seemed to start listening to Peter Gabriel (!) a lot. And that’s what we got with her 1984 album Mister Heartbreak.

Gabriel’s influence appears to permeate this album as there’s a tropical, world music undercurrent throughout and he is indeed present on several Mister Heartbreak songs. This change in direction showcases Anderson’s musical talents in a good light. The opening track “Sharkey’s Day” establishes the new sound – African-ish beat with full band instrumentation! Adrian Belew’s fuzzy guitar tones! Anton Fier on drums! Bill Laswell on bass! Backup vocals! She’s even singing a hook! “Gravity’s Angel,” with lyrics inspired by Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, is another Gabriel-esque song with full-blooded instrumentation and his backup vocals. And “Excellent Birds” features Chic-ster Nile Rodgers! This is the closest thing to a single on this album and is pretty much a duet with Gabriel; he later recorded an alternate version of this song on his mega-selling album So.

“Kokoku” brings an Asian/Japanese feel to the album, complete with Japanese lyrics and halting English in its examination of white stereotypes of Asians; plus it features Phoebe “Poetry Man” Snow on vocals! Meanwhile, “Langue d’Amour” and “Blue Lagoon” harken back to Big Science, with their minimal instrumentation and vocodered voices. The album closes with the inimitable voice of poet William S. Burroughs (!) on “Sharkey’s Night,” an atmospheric spoken word piece. Overall, Anderson’s semi-foray into “pop,” or at least her own spin on it, is a success.

Speaking of my CFUV campus radio days, I was brought back there again in hearing this album as both “Excellent Birds” and “Blue Lagoon” were used as promos and incidental music.

(Warner Bros., 1984)

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