For some time now, I've meant to write a review of Big Science by Laurie Anderson, simply because it's one of those albums that feels a bit timeless to me. As luck would have it, Nonesuch Records made my decision a bit easier by releasing this 25th Anniversary version, repackaged and remastered and ready for discovery by a new generation of fans. Like a good portion of albums released around the same time period, the original recording always felt a bit thin to me, but like the great series of Talking Heads remasters that came out awhile back, the audio cleanup on this release is punchy, but not overdone.
Many discussions have taken place about Big Science (which was part of Anderson's massive United States I-IV series) since its release, and honest to goodness it feels just as important now as it did then. Lyrics bring interesting characters into the mix and touch on anxiety about technology and politics. "From The Air" kicks things off with a bang, as Anderson narrates the song as captain of a plane that's going down for a crash landing (and as with most songs, it's really much more than that) as sharp snares keep time while horns, filtered vocal loops, and synth washes swirl behind spoken-word style vocals.
Album-titled "Big Science" seems to perfectly capture the lament of over-industrialization, as Anderson shows off her vocal range with lovely falsetto work that offsets her usual spoken-style. Musically, the track brings together more traditional hand-percussion with thick synths and filtered vocals. Even more dreamlike is the stunning "Walking & Falling," which finds Anderson speaking words over sparse, but haunting tape loops that will make just about any ambient musician fan swoon.
The big (and surprise, at the time of the release) hit of the album is "O Superman (For Massenet)," which finds Anderson singing through a vocoder over vocal loops and synth pulses as the song unfolds over more than eight gorgeous minutes. In my opinion, it's easily one of the best minimal pop songs ever created, and the lyrical themes of the song (like much of her work) still have an eerie resonance today. Some would probably even call the words of the songs prophetic, especially after the events of 9/11.
Basically, this is one of those albums that is strong and consistent from front to back. I've personally never been a huge fan of the song "Sweaters," but it's a very small misstep on what is otherwise a pretty peerless release. The two-part closing of "Let X=X" and "It Tango" alone put such a solid punctuation on the album that it begs for immediate replay. As mentioned above, the remastering on the audio is quality, and fortunately not overdone. The extended liner notes are great, and the addition of the great video for "O Superman" is a nice touch (although the bonus song being contained only on the multimedia section of the disc is an odd decision). Both earnest and absurdist at the same time, Big Science probably isn't worth re-buying if you already have it (unless you feel like it needs just a bit of added punch), but definitely worth getting immediately if you don't.