A collaboration between David Byrne’s world-wise sensibility and Fatboy Slim’s witty dance beats sounds swell on paper. Add to that contributions from 20 top-of-mind pop vocalists, including Santigold, Sharon Jones, Martha Wainwright, Róisín Murphy, Florence Welch (of Florence and the Machine)—and you’ve got a winner, right? But the product, the two-disc, 22-song Here Lies Love, is burdened by its framing conceit: It’s an après-rock opera about Imelda Marcos, infamous former first lady of the Philippines, and Estrella Cumpas, the woman who raised her. Staged as a “disco musical” in Australia four years ago—Marcos was a habitué of Studio 54—it has evolved into an Evita for iPods, “a theater piece for your ears,” as Byrne calls it.
The tunes are a frisky hybrid of acoustic and electro textures, but the awkward lyrics strain to fit, and the syntax is samey. For best results, disregard the notional concept and focus instead on the luxurious, sometimes retro sound. That happily familiar voice on “The Whole Man”? It’s the inimitable Kate Pierson of The B-52s. Byrne himself croons and yelps through a duet with Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond. Tori Amos tears into “You’ll Be Taken Care Of,” engendering the wish that Byrne/Fatboy would produce a whole disc for her; Amos and Cyndi Lauper close the album with “Why Don’t You Love Me?”—not so much a duet as a death-duel of vowel-mangling mannerisms.
And no, there are no songs about Marcos’ shoe collection, which a British critic cracked is “like doing a concert about Pinocchio and not mentioning his nose.”