Under Review: David Byrne & Fatboy Slim – Here Lies Love

Allow me to coin a new genre: tropictronica.  Definition: the kind of exotic beat-smithing that can be found throughout the recent careers of both David Byrne and Norman “Fatboy Slim” Cook.  Actually, Byrne’s been at it for a while, and possibly roped Cook into the style with their collaboration in last year’s BPA project.  Now, with a venture all their own, Byrne and Cook have created an expansive multimedia project that tackles a number of different ideas as well as some tried and true themes that have permeated both men’s careers.  The new project is Here Lies Love, a musical voyage through the life of Imedla Marcos, former First Lady of the Philippines.  The album employs a different vocalist on every track, though there’s a cohesion that keeps Here Lies Love from the disjointed stagger of The BPA’s 2009 release, I Think We’re Gonna Need A Bigger Boat.  Part of what keeps the album flowing is that just about every vocalist is a lady, and most of those ladies employ one of two vocal styles: soaring or belting.  Leading with the title track (which is really more of an opening theme), Florence Welch of Florence & The Machine gives a performance that far outshines her own work.  “Here Lies Love” is a shifting, cinematic piece that sets the mood for the album very effectively.  Though many of the voices on Here Lies Love blend together, a precious few do manage to make themselves stand out.  Martha Wainwright, who had also worked with The BPA, gives a stellar showing on “The Rose Of Tacloban,” and yes, that’s Kate Pierson giving it her all on “The Whole Man.”  Some of the lesser-known vocalists make a strong impression as well, with Swedish-born New Orleans singer Theresa Andersson bringing a bright air to the disco-flavored “Ladies In Blue,” and former Nouvelle Vague chanson Camille leading the bubbly “Pretty Face.”

Byrne’s actual voice appears very infrequently on Here Lies Love, but his musical voice is very distinctively present.  This is particularly apparent on the Sia-led “Never So Big,” where the Australian vocalist emulates some of Byrne’s most iconic mannerisms.  Byrne finally does appear towards the end of the album, taking lead on “American Troglodyte,” a kind of melding of his own “Animals” and Devo’s “Mongoloid.”  Along with the album is a number of other media, including a book and DVD, though the music remains the main focus.  Without the accompanying book, the plot of Here Lies Love is not very clear, and I felt like I was distracted from the music while trying to follow a storyline.  Unfortunately, this abundance of ambition is the biggest problem with the album.  At exactly 90 minutes long, Here Lies Love is an exhausting listen, especially when moments like the sluggish “Order 1081” (with vocals from Natalie Merchant) and a very out-of-place Sharon Jones on “Dancing Together” weigh the album down for rather long stretches.  In all, listening to Here Lies Love is quite exciting, even if the concept is a bit too much for the casual listener.  The incredible amount of talent on the album, though, is slightly dampened by excessive political references and depressing lyrics.  If this material was in the hands of any other music makers, it would’ve probably made for a miserable album.  But, with Byrne and Cook leading a pack of some of the finest vocalists around, even the story of a terrible, terrible person sounds like fun.

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~ by E. on April 26, 2010.

2 Responses to “Under Review: David Byrne & Fatboy Slim – Here Lies Love”

  1. Actually, this collaboration pre-dates the BPA and probably led to that. Dave & Norm have been working on it for almost 5 years. In the liner notes, Byrne explains at length the genesis of the project and gives a lot of the narrative as well…so no need for the Fancy Book.

    • Still, while I liked the album, I felt like I was missing something by not experiencing the project in its multimedia entirety.

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