Ironically, one of the tracks, "Dark Angel," is an emotionally charged attack on the Information Age and its dependence on machines and consumption, set against a Van Dyke Parks-conducted bed of strings. In her typical storyteller fashion, Anderson illuminates the modern inability to "wrap my arms around" the complexity of contemporary culture; the solution, revealed by a dark angel, is to head for a cafe with beret and pencil in hand and write a manifesto. The song harks back almost directly to Anderson's first underground hit, 1981's "O Superman (for Massenet)," included last year on Warner Archives' The Laurie Anderson Anthology. (The phrase "Here come the planes" from that early track is especially disquieting.) It also places Anderson squarely in the camp of her mentors: old-school Beat poets like William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, who railed against Manhattan's diffusion of impersonal, corporate culture around the city and around the globe.
Released just weeks before the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center, Life on a String is eerily prophetic about the state of affairs at the beginning of the 21st century. "One White Whale," a selection from Anderson's 2000 stage piece, Moby Dick, opens the disc with beautiful, Sufi-inspired vocal modulations that are purposely reminiscent of Middle Eastern music. It closes with the title track, wrapped around these disturbing lyrics: "Some people know exactly where/ They're going/The pilgrims to Mecca/The climbers to the mountaintop/But me I'm looking/For just a single moment/So I can slip through time." As Anderson's commercial output has decreased over the last decade, her intuitive and thoroughly modern commentary on the world around her has deepened.