Here Lies Love | David Byrne and Fatboy Slim
Let’s cut to the chase—“Here Lies Love” is an hour and a half disco opera written by the frontman of the Talking Heads about the youth of the corrupt former first lady of the Philippines. If that’s exhausting to read, well, it’s kind of exhausting to listen to. On the album’s 22 tracks we get just as many vocalists, from Byrne himself to the likes of Tori Amos, Santigold and Cyndi Lauper. Though “Here Lies Love’s” production is frequently lush and nuanced, it has the distinct feel of a third helping at a buffet; Byrne and Slim have mistaken more for better.
More is the central theme of the work here, both lyrically and musically. This is unsurprising since the concept album’s protagonist is Filipina celebrity and former first lady Imelda Marcos, a woman aptly nicknamed “The Iron Butterfly” for her remarkable beauty and shrewd tenacity. She is perhaps best known for her collection of 3,000 pairs of shoes. Many of the lyrics are direct quotations from Marcos.
But Byrne is most interested in her youth and her relationship with her servant Estrella, whom Marcos adopted as a sort of mother figure, only to abandon her as soon as she became politically inconvenient. Byrne takes a turn on vocals as Marcos’ former lover Benigno Aquino, who later became her political rival and assassination target.
As is fitting for such a larger-than-life character, Marcos herself is portrayed by at least 20 different vocalists, the most fascinating of whom is Róisín Murphy, an Irish singer-songwriter formerly of Moloko. Murphy’s overdubbed vocals on “Don’t You Agree” writhe seductively between horn blasts and Fatboy Slim’s beats.
The production on “Here Lies Love” vacillates considerably in quality. The lead single, “Please Don’t” with Santigold, is an intricate, pulsing soon-to-be hit. Slim knows how to stoke the fire, throwing in the whole gamut of effects, constantly contorting the beats, yet never seeming to go too far and always staying danceable.
However, too many tracks follow a tired four-on-the-floor disco beat, and no matter how much Fatboy Slim dresses it up, the act gets old after 90 minutes. Also, some of the production on the vocals is downright weird and unnecessary. Without even using auto-tune, Cyndi Lauper (already possessing a distinctly non-traditional voice) is made to sound as mechanized as the synths and drum machines backing her.
This is representative of the problems with “Here Lies Love” as a whole. In their enthusiasm, Byrne and Slim seem to have gone overboard. Many of these tracks stand up on their own, but when all 22 are put together, it’s more of an auditory onslaught than a concept album. The big-name artists involved, the self-serious material and the plethora of production considerations make the album easy to respect, without a doubt, but unless you’re looking to throw a full-on bizarre dance party, respect it from a distance.
For fans of: The Talking Heads, The Chemical Brothers, New Wave
Tracks to download: ‘Please Don’t’ ‘Don’t You Agree’