Laurie Anderson's third proper studio album, coming over five years after 1984's Mister Heartbreak (1986's Home of the Brave was a film soundtrack), is a near-total departure from anything she had done before or, indeed, anything she did after. The most purely musical of Anderson's albums and the one on which she does the most actual singing (though her trademark deadpan spoken-word passages are still present and accounted for), Strange Angels seems to be Anderson's idea of a straightforward pop album. Of course, given Anderson's pedigree, this is not Whitney Houston territory; the closest parallel would be Joni Mitchell's more experimental, post-Mingus work: pretty but chilly, with a certain emotional distance even on the most immediately appealing songs (in this case, the thrilling "Babydoll" and the dreamy title track). There appears to be no underlying concept to the album, although the lyrical themes of three of the songs are explicitly taken from 19th century American literature. The musical arrangements are remarkably complex and feature cameos from not only Anderson's usual collaborators (Adrian Belew, David Van Tieghem, etc.) but also a motley crew ranging from jazz vocalist Bobby McFerrin to session keyboardist Robbie Kilgore. As a result, the songs are sometimes a little too busy, but Anderson manages to remain the center of attention throughout. An album on which longtime Anderson fans tend to be divided, Strange Angels is a perfect introduction for anyone who might find the deadpan surrealism of Big Science or United States I-IV a bit much.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Stewart Mason