Talk Normal: The Laurie Anderson Anthology
Twenty years ago, Laurie Anderson was the epitome of the performance-art scene, playing a bizarre handmade tape-head violin and reciting strange little poems in a calm Midwestern drawl, altered though a vocoder: "I saw a lot of trees today... and they were all made... entirely... of wood." Over time, her songs and stories have gradually approached the ideal of Talk Normal's title -- though "normal" is relative for someone whose biggest MTV hit ("Language Is a Virus") was based on a William S. Burroughs quotation. This set abridges her seven albums to two smartly programmed discs. In the case of her smashing debut Big Science and its near-pop-crossover follow-up Mister Heartbreak, the track selection here is just a matter of hitting the highlights, like the unforgettable "O Superman" (the strangest No. 2 U.K. hit ever) and the Peter Gabriel duet "Excellent Birds." With her later albums, the point is more salvaging decent stuff that works out of context -- the five-LP set United States I-IV is condensed to seven tracks. The essay in the 50-page booklet is light on revelations -- it's based on other publications' interviews with Anderson -- but the copious performance photos of Anderson are terrific. There are no rarities or pre-Warner Bros. material here, but it's a concise survey of the career of a fine American storyteller and a great American weirdo.