Music: David Byrne & Fatboy Slim here lies love (Nonesuch) * * *
David Byrne's album on Philippine tyrant Imelda Marcos tells a tale so full of delusional kitsch, says eamon carr, that the shoes don't fit
Imelda's Disco Inferno
Let's start with the album title. Here Lies Love is the epitaph once proposed by Imelda Marcos for her gravestone. Now the widow of the disgraced former president of the Philippines has inspired a further memorial. These 22 songs that David Byrne has been working on for five years.
Byrne has ignored the obvious. So there aren't any direct references to the 3,000 pairs of shoes or 1,000 handbags she left behind when forced to flee the country during the 1986 revolution. No mention either of the 7,500 tons of gold her husband had managed to salt away, making them multi-billionaire exiles.
Former beauty pageant queen Imelda, the ruthless social climber dubbed the Iron Butterfly, has long been an intriguing figure. Her ability to combine kitsch with tyranny is what appears to have tickled Byrne's fancy. That, and her love of 1970s disco. She hung at Studio 54 with Warhol, y'know. And had a disco, complete with mirrorball, in her home.
Imelda once said, "Never dress down for the poor. They won't respect you for it. They want their First Lady to look like a million dollars."
So when Byrne came to writing his opera he looked to Imelda's interviews and speeches for his lyrics.
The one-time Talking Heads frontman explores what made Ms Marcos tick. The songs, he claims, "present Imelda Marcos meditating on events in her life, from her childhood spent in poverty and her rise to power to her ultimate departure from the palace".
So definitely no shoes then? "The story I was interested in was more universal, revealing and profound than that of the shoes," says David.
There's a strange story to tell. After her mother died, Imelda was raised by a servant, in a garage. Byrne also gives voice to the nanny, Estrella Cumpas.
Anyone who suffered under the Marcos' brutal regime is likely to find fault with Byrne's narrative. But if taken as the musings of the self-mythologising, self-delusional wackoid that Marcos is, there's much to be enjoyed.
Byrne, with Fatboy Slim adding dancefloor beats and grooves, calls on a stellar cast of singers to perform songs veering to the Latin end of the disco spectrum.
The sinuous rhythms he's been using since he immersed himself in South American song styles for the Rei Momo album in 1989 continue to underpin his work. And his carefully chosen singers do an admirable job on the material at their disposal.
Florence (sans The Machine) performs a tour-de-force music-hall routine on the album title track which combines a Byrne wedding cake arrangement with Fatboy Slim's muscular attack.
Santi White (aka Santigold) successfully gets inside the personality of the Marcos character who espoused "handbag diplomacy", an initiative that would see her hop on a plane and fly off to doorstep world leaders on major issues. "Please don't let them look down on us, like they used do to me..." she croons convincingly.
Byrne delivers a personal State of the Nation address on American Troglodyte, a Wicky-Wacky electro-funk litany, "Americans are playing that basketball, doing that rock'n'roll, going to outer space, buying real estate..." that can raise a wry smile as easily as it can fill a dancefloor.
Twenty-two tracks. Lots to be going on with. Cyndi Lauper, Tori Amos, Roisin Murphy, Martha Wainwright and others, including Steve Earl as Ferdinand Marcos! The melodies are seductive, the beats are strong and it's sure to make an exciting stage show. HHHII