Big Science

Big Science

Avant-garde visionary or subversive interloper? In 1982, no one was quite sure what to make of Laurie Anderson after the release of her debut album Big Science. The veteran performance artist applied new rigor and insight to minimalist music-making with this influential work, a paired-down version of her theater piece United States. What makes Big Science such an enduring cult classic are the cleverness of its sonic stratagems and the austere wit of its lyrics. Anderson’s poker-faced recitations dissect suburban banality, parent/child relationships and the simmering paranoia of modern life. The mordant humor of “From the Air” and “O Superman” compliments the clinical alienation of “Born, Never Asked” and the romantic angst of “Let X=X”/”IT Tango.” Though a pop music outsider, Anderson proves herself adept with her chosen tools, whether she’s intoning through a vocoder, laying down a hypnotic keyboard line or wielding a demonic violin bow. The strangest thing about the album is how poignant much of it is — beyond all their sardonic observations, there’s a tragic sense to these fractured fairy tales. Big Science showed how the aesthetics of visual art could reshape contemporary music in startling ways. The results still make for a transformative experience.

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