Here Lies Love, a beautiful package containing two CDs, a DVD and a 120-page hardcover book, sub-titled “A Song Cycle About Imelda Marcos & Estrella Cumpas,” is the true and fascinating story about the life of Marcos (the widow of the corrupt Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos) and her childhood friend/caretaker. Its 22 songs are sung by Steve Earle, Sharon Jones, Cyndi Lauper, Natalie Merchant, Martha Wainwright, Allison Moorer, Tori Amos, Byrne and 14 others.
Byrne, who brought odd funky angles to punk in Talking Heads and a wealth of world music to the world stage via his Luaka Bop record label, has always had an adventurous ear and the wherewithal to back it up throughout a stunningly eclectic career of projects ranging from opera, theater and photography to ballet and film soundtracks.
History has proved Marcos to be a narcissistic despot of fascist proportions known for her pathological disdain for her own people, her love of disco music and her 3,000 pairs of shoes. Byrne wants to know what makes her tick, but in enlisting British DJ/producer/musician Fatboy Slim (a pioneering figure in Euro electronic dance music) to supply the beats to Byrne’s meticulously researched lyrics, he’s locked himself into one genre: disco.
There’s a sameness to these tracks that doesn’t quite befit Byrne’s sterling reputation. One could lose one’s self in reading this book, deciphering the meaning of these lyrics, and, yeah, dancing to the disco, but as a purely listening experience, Here Lies Love is not up to the high standards of Byrne’s previous work.