Released on the eve of Laurie Anderson’s first studio album for over eight years, Talk Normal, a two-CD anthology, is a timely reminder of just how much the New York-based artist has achieved. Over a period of some 25 years Anderson’s work has been courageously explicit in its themes. In her first major stage show United States (and its subsequent 1982 album, Big Science) Anderson’s themes were of technology and alienation. Her innovative use of the new electronic instruments – many of which she customized herself – underlined gender and power concerns. Later songs took up issues relating to censorship, AIDS and the Gulf War. Her sing-song delivery, simultaneously folksy and distant, conveyed mixed emotions. It was impossible not to feel both desolate and excited.
Anderson’s direct (and deceptive) simplicity is her strong point and the wonderful clarity of the earlier recordings here still stun. While, sadly, Talk Normal does not proffer any unreleased material, it is a succinct compendium across her seven albums. ‘O Superman (For Massenet)’ sets the tone: a minimal, pulsing beat, a synthed voice, audio and visual references that place her within a strand of performance art that she made uniquely her own. Even after 20 years, ‘Big Science’ or ‘Born, Never Asked’ sound innovative. More than any other performance artist, Anderson is the voice of America’s conscience. Long may she speak.