David Byrne & Fatboy Slim – Here Lies Love

a pop-operatic piece of disco theatre detailing the life of Imelda Marcos

(Nonesuch)

There’s been a lot written about the death of the album but here’s proof of just what an album can be: released across a variety of formats, the full fat version includes a digital download option, two CDs, a DVD and a hundred page book. Not everyone, of course, has the clout of these two artists but this, surely, is an example of the way forward for albums. They need not be so grandiose, but they should offer something that a mere chunk of data can’t: something beautiful, something personal, something that shows love and attention.

If the scope of Here Lies Love appears a little over-the-top then so too does the idea behind it: a pop-operatic piece of disco theatre detailing the life of Imelda Marcos. It’s an hour and a half long and features the cream of the current crop of indie singers playing Imelda - Florence Welch, Roisin Murphy, Sharon Jones, St. Vincent – the list goes on. 

All well and good: but what about the music? And what we have here can best be described as a curate’s egg. If Here Lies Love had been an hour long we would have had a belting pop album (assuming, of course, that they chose the correct hour). But at an hour and a half it feels a little threadbare in parts, particularly towards the end of the first CD when the music resembles ‘traditional’ musical theatre a little too closely for comfort.

Florence Welch gets things off to a good start with the title track. Here Lies Love is a swooning pop song with a big chorus and a whole heap of ambition. Candi Payne and Tori Amos give good value on a pair of funky pop songs but Martha Wainwright gets a little bogged down with the syrupy Rose of Tacloban. Nellie McKay has more success with How Are You?, an infectiously upbeat number. One of the highlights of the first half of the album actually comes from the only male singer – Steve Earle is a wonderfully left-field choice for Ferdinand Marcos. Best described as a Brazilian country & western number, Earle gives A Perfect Hand a strangely poignant air. However, with the exception of Roisin Murphy’s turn on Don’t You Agree? the remainder of the album rather slips by.

Speaking of great vocal performances, you could never accuse Sharon Jones of holding back. She gets the second half off to a great start with Dancing Together, giving it some right thump. It’s an irrepressibly funky number with a big fat bassline and stabbed brass synths. The second side has a more upbeat air to it, Never So Big being a joyously Brazilian stomper. In fact, with the exception of Seven Years, a duet between David Byrne and Shara Worden, pretty much all of the second half moves along with a clip.

I don’t think it ever quite manages to live up Byrne’s hopes and intentions but there’s still a good summer album here, along with a breadth of ambition all too often missing from most of the world of rock and pop.