1980s, the Philippines and too many divas

29 May

Phew! I had a hard time listening to the concept album issued this year by David Byrne, the legend of the Talking Heads, and Fatboy Slim, the UK dancefloor king. This is a concept album which tells the story of the former First Lady of the Philippines compiled in 22 songs sung by various, mainly female, artists. And until now I don’t know if it’s too exotic to me or just a failure.

Some of the pieces are great. I was very surprised with the comeback of Cyndi Lauper whom, basically, I never appreciated (she annoyed me as hell, like most of the divas of the 1980s), but – I gotta admit – she is absolutely great here. She performs two songs on the album, one of which is a duet with Tori Amos (Why Don’t You Love Me?). Lauper fits the mood and the character of the album perfectly. Her slightly flat voice, even though thoroughly “Western”, reminds me of pop songs of the Far East. The music also tries to evoke the sounds of the Philippines – and here’s a major question: does it? Cause I had a constant feeling that this is how Eastern Asian music sounds when a white ear listens to it. This is not really an insight into a different culture, it is how we – the white people – IMAGINE different cultures. I’m not expecting something extremely oriental and I’m not a professional in the genre of Asian music but I guess taking any kind of a compilation issued either by National Geographic or the Rough Guides would make me much more satisfied than the album of David Byrne/Fatboy Slim. And, even if you find my statement funny or utterly proud, note that such anthologies often include some examples of the local pop/rock scene, so it doesn’t mean that it’s folk and ethno only. Sadly, I have heard much better and much more interesting, breathtaking things thanks to the Rough Guides’ anthologies than I heard on Here Lies Love.

I would be totally cruel and unjust, if I didn’t mention the fact that most of the songs are absolutely lovely – totally sweet, delicate melodies, most of them sung by great voices. It’s a CD that is easy to like. Relaxing, warm music. There is some taste of the 1980s in it but it’s elegant and tasteful. The first disappointment, however, goes with the fact that it’s… well… too elegant and too tasteful. You can’t feel any of the passion that you know from other records of David Byrne. And Fatboy Slim’s input seems highly diminished, as if the guy would be just terrified of working with Byrne, who, after all, is a legendary artist. I don’t know what happened to both of them but the electro-side of the album is very weak, perhaps intentionally naïve and plain, however, even though in the beginning it can make you curious, after 22 songs you just feel completely bored and exhausted.

The voices are a different story. Some of them are fantastic but just do not fit the whole – I was pretty disappointed with Tori Amos’ performance, she is, after all, one of the artists which I value really high. Here she just doesn’t fit the music, her voice is too hysterical, too trembling, she is not able to deal with the character of the music and the music itself does nothing to support her. Most of the vocalists sing in a different manner and the overall feeling is that the story of one woman gets lost somewhere on the way. So many different vocalists – it’s ambitious but inconsequent and you get the impression that it’s a compilation of various songs by various artists, not a concept album. It’s messy and distracting.

I don’t know. Perhaps I need time to get used to this album, to listen to it over and over again. There are some highlights of course – a great performance by Róisín Murphy (Don’t You Agree?), Nicole Atkins (Solano Avenue) or Florence Welch more known as Florence and the Machine (Here Lies Love). Here I would also add Eleven Days performed by Cyndi Lauper – one of the best songs of the album. Still, listening to the songs one by one makes this album much more appealing than listening to the whole of it. Unfortunately, the whole concept is lost somewhere. We were supposed to get a story of one woman’s life and love sang by various vocalists in order to create a complex portrait of the character, we get a scattered, inconsequent image which could very well be just a various artists’ compilation of synthpop songs – and, it’s sad to say, these are very mediocre songs.

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