Mirror is an album of cinematic, electronic pop music from Thomas Anselmi’s multi-media project of the same name produced by Vincent Jones and featuring performances by a star-studded cast of collaborators including Depeche Mode singer Dave Gahan, Warhol superstar Joe Dallesandro, Bowie pianist Mike Garson, and introducing chanteuse Laure-Elaine and teen actress Frances Lawson.
First launched at the New Forms Festival three years ago, the aesthetic of the Mirror song and video cycle is deeply rooted in the sounds and sights of erotic art and cinema. One can hear in the music the influence of film composers such as Francis Lai (Love Story, Bilitis) and Angelo Badalamenti (Twin Peaks, Blue Velvet). The songs functioned as the soundtrack to immersive multi-performer shows that combine electronic pop music with theatricality and live video production.
The use of video in its stage presentation is both strange and familiar, playing on our nostalgia for the iconic imagery of classic Hollywood and the stagey drama of television variety shows. A new direction for the pop spectacle, Mirror uses live and recorded media to create a kind of pyschosexual postmodern cabaret. By embracing the artificial and sentimental, Mirror reflects the transitory, spectacular world of endless commodities, sex, advertising, and tabloid violence. Ballads of love and longing disguise the themes of cultural decay and apocalypse.
Mirror ‘s creator Tom Anselmi has spent a lifetime assembling a brilliant and dangerous past, and with Mirror takes an assured step into his future. At 17, Anselmi was the frontman, lyricist and designated sacrifice on the rock and roll altar with the band Slow. Built on primal teenage confusion, brilliant songwriting and crushing musicianship, Slow swept across North American stages like a three-chord typhoon leaving a trail of blood, sweat, broken gear and slack-jawed,
exhausted audiences in its wake. Slow was an incitement, a palpable threat and a dance on the edge of madness and as, such, designed to implode. After a performance at Expo 86 which featured the expected savagery and some unexpected frontal nudity, the performance climaxed with sirens, uniforms and legal threats while the band fled the exhibition grounds. Shortly thereafter, their work done, Slow disbanded.
Two years later Anselmi led Copyright through three acclaimed albums and a dispiriting journey through the corporate wilderness. Subjects of a bidding war among major labels, Anselmi chose a Los Angeles industry showcase to vent his disgust with the industry and himself in an onstage drugs-and-drink exorcism that left label heads white-faced and terrified. It was, as witnesses later testified, “a little too real for most people.”
Cut to: a familiar scenario – addiction, dissipation, squandered time and talent, and, beloved of Hollywood, the happy ending. Anselmi kicked his habit, regained his muse and set back to work older, wiser, sadder and a mature artist ready to create major work. That work is Mirror .
Anselmi says: “Being in a band I became very frustrated with the performance limitations of having 4 men on stage. The singer tells their story, so they can only tell a little girls’ story in the 3rd person. This was the genius of Serge (Gainsbourg). He used singers in a more iconic cinematic way. So Combining that with David Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti’s ironic use of saccharine pop music, I started to think of a formula for the Mirror record and a kind of cinemagraphic concert. I also obviously stole a lot from Brecht and Weill, like everyone else.”
The result is akin to a telethon for weltschmertz, a word first used to describe the disorientation of returning German soldiers in WWI who had seen and endured too much at too young an age. In Anselmi’s creation the characters are shell-shocked by sex and the discovery that youth and beauty are transitory. For reference, consider Oscar Levant’s summation of Hollywood, a place where “sincerity is the most important thing, and once you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”