Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Laurie Anderson's first release in three years has drawn surprising flak--her faithful complain that it's too slick, even too danceable. Certainly Strange Angels (Warner Bros.) is her most musical album, at least as pop fans understand the term. So serious about her expanded melodic ambitions that she took singing lessons, she also hired collaborators--notably South African bassist Bakithi Khumalo, whose fretless flow puts meat on her brains--who would counterpose their organic instincts to the boss's disjointed designs. To label the album's pulse a dance beat, however, is to reveal how little you know about parties.

The music's gain in sensuality isn't for revelers, disco DJs, or radio programmers--it's for Anderson, who feels a need to balance a growing pessimism with the gift of faith. Though her jokes are as funny as ever, they have a big fat butt--the notion that things ever get better. In The Dream Before, Anderson defines progress as a big wind that prevents the angel of history from going back and fixing what's broken. "Big changes are coming" the opener concludes, and that's not a promise, it's a warning, because as the next song insists: "Nature's got rules and Nature's got laws/And if you cross her look out!" You may think such sour stuff doesn't go with music that's sonorous and songful if not hitbound. I say the music makes the message not softer but more complex.

On All Hail the Queen (Tommy Boy), Queen Latifah comes by her faith naturally. Since even female hip-hop indulges in the genre's confrontational macho, it's a pleasure to hear a woman rapper come on like a budding matriarch instead of a bad sister. Shifting beats from reggae to house to De La Nonsense, this is a proud, generous, hopeful record. Revelers will like it fine.

Playboy, Nov. 1989


Oct. 1989 Dec. 1989