Here Lies Love’s cover art is a pretty accurate summation of the album itself. The cover shows a soft-focused, flattering representation of a demure Pacific Island woman wielding an umbrella in a charmingly picturesque landscape while italicized lettering adds a layer of deliberate corniness. The image is both quixotic and slightly unsettling, hearkening back to a time that never existed. In other words, it’s standard Byrne fare.
David Byrne and Fat Boy Slim
Here Lies Love
The album — a collaboration between David Byrne and Fatboy Slim — serves as an homage to renowned beauty and exiled Filipino First Lady Imelda Marcos, and is filled with bright, brassy instrumentation and a Spanish merengue influence. The up-tempo rhythm has a danceable, exotic flair. Lyrics link Marcos’s love of life, love and shoes. The album chronicles Marcos’s life — from her early years spent in abject poverty, to her rise in status and to her eventual decline — and yet, still maintains an optimistic air. The album is provocatively feminine, with a carefree, life-affirming girlish sauciness about it. The presence of the Steel Butterfly, as Marcos was called, is definitely palpable on the album.
Here Lies Love is heavily steeped in nostalgia, but its origins aren’t exactly easy to pinpoint. Elements of the tracks seem deliberately anachronistic. In “American Troglodyte,” David Byrne and Fatboy Slim vocalize their projected image of Marcos’s dissatisfaction with American modernity through disparaging new practices: “Americans are surfing the internet / Americans are listening to 50 Cent,” to a backdrop of maracas and ’80s-inspired synths.
The 22-track album is shaped by a bevy of established, mostly female artists that represent the different flavors of their respective generations as well as female empowerment. Cyndi Lauper, an ’80s superstar, is paired against ’90s diva Tori Amos. Newer, buzzed-about female singers in the era of the blogosphere such as St. Vincent and Santigold also make appearances on the album. (“Nixon! Castro!” Santigold sings, somewhat comically, on the track “Please Don’t.”) Despite the span of different generations of music, all singers become puzzlingly homogenized in Here Lies Love to the point where they are almost indistinguishable from each other. This lends the album a claustrophobic air that makes the 90-minute playtime seem a little bit burdened or tired, despite the general playfulness of the album’s contributors.
Byrne and Slim’s Here Lies Love collaboration is certainly admirable, at the very least. The album is clearly a product of labored love (it’s reportedly five years in the making) and painstaking craftsmanship. The technical skill of the duo is undeniable. That isn’t to say the album isn’t fun. Byrne’s oddballness pushes the album above the standard idyllic, romanticized songs, of which the album admittedly consists.
But while the songs are generally enjoyable and fun, the album lacks the moxie and motivation Marcos most assuredly possessed. Consequently, Bryne and Slim’s concept album appears to have lost some of its intended luster.