This whirlwind fuzzy song cycle, starring the diverse likes
of Steve Earle, Tori Amos, Nellie McKay and Santigold, started life as a zippy
musical theatre piece. At least, that’s how David Byrne conceived of this
schmaltzy disco splash dedicated to enigmatic Philippine first lady Imelda
Marcos’ wild life and love of shoes, the woman who raised her, her despot
husband and ‘70s nightlife. Knowing such gives you an indication of why its
melodies and arrangements are so hammy.
For this over-reaching concept album (and get the deluxe
version with a handsome 100+ page book of annotations and a DVD) Byrne and
co-composer Fatboy Slim left the evil politics of martial law implied and took
Lady Marcos’ sappy words, fashioned them into a garish show-tune’s lyrics, and
got 20+ vocalists to tell her tale. With Byrne’s patented Tropical lilt and
Fatboy’s beats added to the music’s snazzy patina, the whole affair comes
across as equal parts Latin tele-novella and Evita with bits and pieces of Byrne’s own True Stories directorial debut to give the entirety of this project
a geographical character study feel.
There are sprightly grooves and curious tales of courtship
(“Eleven Days” sung by Cyndi Lauper) and Manhattan
society (“Dancing Together” with Dap-Kings’ Sharon Jones) that allow its
vocalists dramatic breadth even when the music is fluffy. There are wrenching
and blackly comic songs featuring Natalie Merchant (as Marcos’ cast-aside
caretaker) and B-52’s Kate Pierson where the darker side of Imelda’s psychology
comes into play. And Steve Earle is ferocious as Ferdinand Marcos.
The words “Here Lies Love” is what Imelda – now in exile in Hawaii – says she wanted
inscribed on her tombstone. Someone should make certain a copy of this project
is stuck in there with her. It’d make a nice sendoff.
Standout Tracks: “The Whole Man,” “Order 1081,” “Eleven Days” A.D. AMOROSI