Life on a String

Laurie Anderson

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Life on a String Review

by Stewart Mason

2001's Life on a String is a peculiar entry in Laurie Anderson's career, in that elements of it echo her previous work without sounding much like anything she's done before. In particular, the album has ties both to 1982's Big Science (like that album, Life on a String largely consists of songs taken from a much larger work, her musical theater piece Moby Dick) and 1989's Strange Angels (it returns to the more musical side of her style, which had been largely abandoned on her two '90s releases). Unfortunately, it doesn't measure up to either of those career high points. In its favor, the sound is a new and intriguing development for Anderson; an accomplished violin player who previously had only used the instrument pretty much as a prop, Anderson fills all of these songs with front-and-center string sections that provide an entirely different texture for her usual meandering melodies. On the minus side, the lyrics largely feel about half-written, full of jarring transitions and lines that seem to be there to take up space until Anderson writes the real words. The primary exception is "Slip Away," a moving song about the death of her father that's probably the most direct and emotional song Anderson has ever written. It's the clear high point of Life on a String; unfortunately none of the rest of the album compares.

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