David Byrne & Fatboy Slim, “Here Lies Love”
By Timothy Gunatilaka
23 April 2010
In one of the unquestionably oddest releases of the year, David Byrne and Fatboy Slim memorialize the notorious First Lady of the Philippines and shoe connoisseur Imelda Marcos (as well as her nanny Estrella Cumpas) with this 22-track concept album. In exploring the life of one of the last century’s most infamous female figures, Byrne and Fatboy Slim have enlisted quite an array of strong women behind the mic, including Sharon Jones, Santigold, Cyndi Lauper, Tori Amos, Florence Welch, Nellie McKay, Natalie Merchant, as well as lone male guest, Steve Earle. In largely writing all lyrics in the first person, Byrne casts his subject as a wannabe disco diva reflecting upon her innocent teen-beauty-queen hopes and doomed dreams for fame, fortune, and power. Throughout the two discs (which also come in a deluxe edition with a DVD of music videos and a 100-page book), it is hard not to think of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita – both in concept and aesthetics. The title track, with Welch (of Florence and the Machine), starts the album with soft-rock flourishes, kitchy cabaret, and Seventies-era strings and horns befitting this twisted take on the Broadway biography.
On “Dancing Together”, Jones enumerates the paintings of Marcos’ lavish collection, while bass and synths serve up boyount grooves; meanwhile, the names of Gaddafi, Kissinger, and Castro never sounded so sultry as on Santigold’s smoldering work on the single “Please Don’t”. There certainly are some gems on this record beyond the aforementioned — McKay and Lauper on “How Are You?” and “Eleven Days” (which narrates the Marcoses’ whirlwind romance), respectively, stand out. While the ninety-plus minutes of music as a whole may not resonate and cohere as much as a whittled down single-disc version would have, the ambition of this project is still remarkable; but like Mrs. Marcos herself, the spectacle too often trumps the substance.