Review by: Dominic Linde
Album assigned by: Tom Hadrian Kovalevsky
Pairing Brian Eno with Laurie Anderson seems like a better idea than pairing Brian Eno with Coldplay—and needless to say, it makes more sense than joining him with Paul Simon. It makes sense, because Laurie Anderson is herself a cutting edge electronic artist, albeit one who takes more from the New York performance art scene than the ambience championed by the aforementioned producer.
All this being said, Bright Red simply sounds like a Laurie Anderson album. I had no idea Brian Eno had anything to do with the album until I opened the liner notes a few listens in. So then, why even mention the man? I wonder if Laurie reached out for external assistance after writing the pieces or if they were written for/with Brian Eno? Gone are the pop melodies appearing on Mister Heartbreak and Strange Angels (And even to an extent on Big Science) and left is mostly spoken-word pieces with instrumental accompaniment of varying quality. Adrian Belew adds nice noise guitar to “Firefall,” and Joey Baron adds drums as the only accompaniment to the interesting (and melodious!) “Muddy River.”
A reliance on digital keyboards makes some of this sound dated, especially on tracks such as “Bright Red” and “Speak My Language,” which seem like they could be created largely on MIDI programs. “Speak My Language” in particular reminds me of releases by the Residents from the late ‘80s/early ‘90s, with vocal samples, almost-tribal drumming, and cheesy synthesizers. There are neat little touches with the instrumentation that save the album from being too monotonous and digital: the accordion in “Beautiful Pea Green Boat,” the percussive distortion in “Puppet Motel.”
Of course, neither Laurie Anderson nor Brian Eno would allow a project to be a disaster; cheesier-sounding tracks still create nice atmospheres and boast inventive production, but I feel little emotional attachment to this recording like I could with the more rhythmic parts of Big Science (Many tracks on Bright Red lack rhythmic drive) or the pretty melodies presented on Mister Heartbreak. Some of the backing is warm, but much of it feels too sterile to evoke emotion. Her poetry can be enjoyable, and songs like “Firefall” and “Speechless” feel very emotional. Sometimes her lyrics are too abstract, and her voice too distorted or broken—as with “In Our Sleep,” which trades lines with her future-husband Lou Reed, to glean much meaning.
There’s a lot of complaining in this review, but all-in-all it isn’t an unenjoyable experience listening to Bright Red. It has atmosphere, a healthy amount of experimentation, mostly nice production, and the lyrics are fine. It’s just missing the melody.