David Byrne and Fatboy Slim: Here Lies Love
By Pete Paphides
3 April 2010
To think about footwear when alerted to a 22-song concept album about Imelda Marcos is to be human. However, when developing the project, David Byrne decided early that it would contain no mention of Marcos’s infamously vast shoe collection. Elephant in the room duly dealt with, Byrne called Fatboy Slim to help him to create something that avoids the “evening-length arc” of a musical or opera in favour of “the rise and fall of the DJ’s beats and tracks in a dance club”.
The pair’s navigation of the narrative is impeccable, as Marcos uses her steely resolve to rise above her troubled childhood. Byrne harnesses a roll call of mostly female vocalists to verbalise Marcos’s marriage to President Ferdinand and her passage into the “bubble-world” of Manila high society. On the album’s title track, Florence Welch skilfully negotiates bustling breaks and orchestral flourishes on a showtune that outlines Marcos’s intentions.
As Marcos’s status draws her to what Byrne calls “the velvet rope joints” of the world’s big cities (Studio 54, Regine’s), the sonic tableau gets appropriately funky. Her dependence on amphetamines is covered on The Ladies in Blue, sung by the Swedish singer-songwriter Theresa Andersson. Charmaine Clamor brings a poignant mock resolve to Walk like a Woman, which addresses the intensive “training” Marcos underwent to be an suitably elegant First Lady.
The real story concerns the relationship between Marcos and the “forgotten” woman who raised her, Estrella. Through the voices of Cyndi Lauper and Tori Amos, they come together at the end on Why Don’t You Love Me?: Marcos besieged by the anger of the Filipinos; Estrella betrayed by the woman she helped to bring up. Only then do the mobs storm the palace and find the notorious shoes. By that time, you’ll have realised why Byrne avoided writing about the shoe collection. It’s one of her life’s least interesting details.