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David Byrne & Fatboy Slim - Here Lies Love (Public Theater Cast Recording)

"Here Lies Love (Public Theater Cast Recording)"

Release date: 06 May 2014
David Byrne and Fatboy Slim Here Lies Love Cast Recording
20 May 2014, 13:30 Written by Ryan Thomas
​The New York Public Theater marry Talking Heads, EDM, and Disney fairytales in actualizing the ambitious David Byrne and Fatboy Slim collaboration.

So if you don’t fancy musical theater, and definitely don’t listen to the Broadway soundtracks via cast recordings, you’ll have to accept that context prior to listening to the Public Theater’s adaptation of David Byrne and Fat Boy Slim’s Here Lies Love.

I don’t particularly geek out for Rogers and Hammerstein, Elton John/Tim Rice, or Andrew Lloyd Webber, but I do love David Byrne. And I am willing to forego my transparent bias in order to appreciate this for what it is.

So the avenue is this: David Byrne is following a niche tradition of non-classically-oriented musicians investigating music theater as just one more medium for expression. Before him, The Who scored Tommy, ABBA scored Mama Mia, and U2 helped make comic books acceptable source material for live performance art.

If you look at his production-heavy Talking Heads performances, and note his 1986 musical film revue True Stories, Byrnes’ interest in musical theater is not very surprising. But in the unconventional spirit of Byrne, he doesn’t enter the medium without breaking some new ground.

This is where Fatboy Slim ostensibly enters. Here Lies Love began as a concept-heavy collaboration between the two sound-moguls, a collection of songs centering thematically around Former First Lady of the Philippines Imelda Marcos and her life story, which was originally recorded in 2010 (with guest singers including Florence Welch, Cyndi Lauper, and Natalie Merchant) and adapted for theater by New York’s Public Theater in 2013.

So while it was originally sort of a electronica-rock opera sans the opera, the adaptation, which we hear on the recording under this very review, gave the theatrical spectacle the 2006-2007 performances and 2010 album only implied. The result is EDM musical theater, a kind of inevitable progression of the form.

Of course this isn’t straight EDM. But it is a 50/50 cut between the melodic songwriting precision of David Byrne and the FBS’s 90s computer beat samples that haven’t aged much since “Funk Soul Brother”. In fact if you listen to any of Fatboy Slim’s ubiquitous DJ-funk jams, this collaboration makes perfect sense. Fatboy Slim and David Byrne are both ostensibly interested in every genre in black music tradition, and Fatboy Slim’s greatest strength appears to be in his ability to seamlessly marry the synthetic with the organic. So when you hear harmonizing Disney archetypes floating on a magic carpet of string arrangements and acoustic guitar over a space-age metropolis of pulsating electromagnets, it’s not so strange after all.

The songs, again accepting that Aladdin and Jasmine (and the occasional tea cup and parrot choir) will be performing every vocal duty, are very good in their essence. Being at the heart, a collaboration of great minds with tenured track records in the experiemental pop music landscape. Lyrics provided by Byrne alternate between blunt social criticism (“American Troglodyte”), concept-serving narrative (“Child of the Philippines,” “Star and Slave”), and unabashedly swollen sentimentality (“Here Lies Love”).

Some of the best moments are when you can hear Byrne clearly through the production value. Hear Byrne circa Talking Heads’ Remain in Light clear as day in the lead vocal sass of “Fabulous One,” which is met with African harmonies and classy thumps of upright bass. “God Draws Straight” is a rare (relatively) stripped-down moment which translates to the part of a show where Byrne would walk on stage and sing and play acoustic guitar unaccompanied. The part where where the lyrics and melody are poignant enough to speak for themselves: “You might think you are lost, but then you will find that God draws straight but with crooked lines.” Sung with a virtuosic tenor, and accompanied by a breezy Pacific Island melody, the lyrical/melodic contrast brings to mind the purposeful dramatic irony and faux-country of “People Like Us” from Byrnes’ aforementioned Talking Heads film.

Of course there are moments when the album goes full on West Side Story, and that may hard to bear, but that is sort of the point. Byrne created an album for the big stage, and got every bit of the production value you could ever hope for in a theatrical adaptation. Of course, that’s going on sound alone.

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