Here Lies Love: David Byrne and Fatboy Slim, CD review
By Helen Brown
1 April 2010
David Byrne and Fatboy Slim have made an inspired disco concept album about Imelda Marcos.
Disco music is, by nature, dictatorial. “Do the hustle!” it commands and, mindlessly intoxicated by the beat, the mobilised masses on the dance floor obey. But only an oddball as brilliant as former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne could generate a dance album about a dictator.
Imelda Marcos did the hustle on a national scale, embezzling millions out of the oppressed Filipino population during her husband’s 1965-1986 regime while installing a nightclub on the roof of her Manila Palace. In the book accompanying this CD, Byrne explains that the more he read about the Marcos story, the more he wondered if one could, “as if by osmosis, absorb an emotional story, a narrative even, in the course of a night out dancing? Could one bring a 'story’ and a kind of theatre to the disco?”
Byrne called up DJ Fatboy Slim (whose big beats and British sense of humour he’d always admired) and a dazzling host of idiosyncratic singers and got to work telling Imelda’s story, alongside the tragic tale of the woman who raised her. The two women’s parts are sung variously by artists as diverse as keyboard kookster Tori Amos and funk/soul sister Sharon Jones, by way of Cyndi Lauper, Martha Wainwright, Natalie Merchant, Santogold and Florence Welch (of Florence and the Machine).
Byrne adds a few of his own weirdly swooping vocals and country rocker Steve Earle is an inspired choice for Ferdinand Marcos. The result is a headily atmospheric and inspired combination of humid, late-Seventies, early-Eighties Latin-tilted beats and lyrics you actually want to think about, rather than mouth dumbly as you dance. Byrne’s worldly woodwind and string arrangements slink sinisterly around mass-hypnotising beats. You can hear sly little bass-line echoes of Talking Heads’ Once in a Lifetime on Please Don’t (featuring Santogold) as you think, “And you may find yourself in a Coconut Palace, with 3,000 pairs of beautiful shoes, and martial law on the streets and you may ask yourself… how did I get here?”
Although it’s a song-cycle about the glamorous wife of a despot, Evita this ain’t. This is the soundtrack to the kind of party you enter through a beaded curtain and leave with a cocktail parasol in your hair and the guilty sense of having received some corrupt hospitality. Byrne isn’t celebrating the human rights-abusing Marcos-regime with a game of musical fancy dress. He’s just telling us a human story and reminding us that although Imelda wants her gravestone to read “Here Lies Love”, love was exactly what the former Miss Philippines had left to rot.