As an album, Here Lies Love is easier to admire than it is to enjoy.
Jim Brackpool 2010-04-01
Who else but David Byrne would attempt a 22-song disco opera about the intertwined lives of the Philippines’ controversial first lady Imelda Marcos and childhood confidant Estrella Cumpas? He’s got the socio-political conscience, theatrical vision, globalised perspective and unquestionably the vaunting creativity.
By comparison, his main collaborator Fatboy Slim – an artist known for little more than a nauseating crossbreeding of Jive Bunny and the Energizer Bunny – would seem some way out of his league. Indeed, Slim and cohort Cagedbaby’s clunky, heavy handed productions are the weak link here. Too frequently they default to hackneyed production tricks like dated filter sweeps, bubbling 303s and rudimentary, straight-off-the-vinyl percussion loops.
Unfortunately, the album’s other USP, a Gorillaz-trumping cavalcade of female contributors, regularly misfires too. Certain voices – Tori Amos, Candie Payne, Allison Moorer for example – either don’t fit the quirky backings or their delivery style sits awkwardly with the literal, show-tune lyrics required to drive the plot. Moreover, the repeated shifts in tone and multitude of voices serve only to confuse the twin narratives of Marcos and Cumpas, leaving the story arc tricky to follow and the characters impossible to emotionally invest in. The lavish booklet that accompanies the album helps, but with such proven talent on board these songs should really stand up for themselves.
Still, there are some fantastic moments: Róisín Murphy’s slinky disco turn on Don’t You Agree?, Santi White’s righteous strutting on Please Don’t and a striking, near operatic vocal from Shara Worden on Seven Years render the remaining tracks lumpen and conservative by comparison. And Byrne’s unerring melodic touch is everywhere; so much so, not even the MOR grind of Steve Earle can derail it on A Perfect Hand.
Sadly though, the prevalence of mid-tempo, Des’ree-lite ballads and inconsistent quality make this is an exhausting listen over 90 minutes. Fans might have been better served at first by a single disc of highlights, with the full version accompanying the inevitable stage show. The scale and audacity of Byrne’s ambition is hugely impressive, but as an album Here Lies Love is easier to admire than it is to enjoy.