“SONGS FROM LIQUID DAYS.” Philip Glass. CBS Masterworks. This may mark the first foray into song forms for “new music” composer Glass, but he’s not turning into Burt Bacharach or anything. Lyrics and vocals are incorporated into Glass’ arsenal of musical phrase repetition and classical/modern hybrid orchestrations (the avant-garde Kronos String Quartet is on board, along with the regular Glass players). The overall tone is one of chamber gentility, resembling that of an earlier effort at presenting these elements in bite-sized morsels, 1982’s “Glassworks.”
The lyrics themselves reflect the personalities of their authors: brooding stasis from Paul Simon; two brittle emotional still-lifes from Suzanne Vega; off-center spirituality from David Byrne; detached, cockeyed observation from Laurie Anderson. However, with the words separated from their writers’ distinctive singing styles, these qualities are diminished somewhat.
Still, the singing is top-notch. The standout cut is “Lightning,” in which Janice Pendarvis sings Vega’s vivid lyrics against a throbbing beat. A second Vega offering, “Freezing,” and Anderson’s “Forgetting” feature Linda Ronstadt’s ever-increasing operatic talents to great effect. Glass also fully utilizes the Roche sisters’ unique harmonizing both as backing for Ronstadt on “Forgetting,” and as the centerpiece for Byrne’s title song.
Ultimately, though, this is an album of music by Glass that just happens to sport words and singers. If you like what he’s done in the past, this will seem an intriguing variation. If you don’t, it probably won’t change your mind.