A concept album about the 80-year-old Imelda Marcos, the former first lady of the Philippines, will have many rock fans sprinting past (not in any of her innumerable pairs of shoes.)
Fortunately, “Here Lies Love,” out this week, has more than 20 saving graces: the star vocalists include Cyndi Lauper, Martha Wainwright and Natalie Merchant. The music, in a weird pairing, is by Fatboy Slim and David Byrne.
Over the course of two discs, some of the inspired eccentricity is brilliant, such as the crazed single “Please Don’t” with vocals by Santigold. Other tracks are too quirky. Tori Amos sounds out of place on “You’ll Be Taken Care Of,” a ragbag of off-the-wall ideas.
Not that we expect anything less from Byrne, who since his Talking Heads days has reveled in obscure ventures. Last year, he published a book about cycling, collaborated with Brian Eno and ended a world tour -- inexplicably wearing a white tutu -- with a hot set at the U.K.’s Big Chill. He was in great voice and we festival-goers loved it while pondering what he would do next. Who imagined it would be Imelda?
Rating: *** 1/2.
Contrast the ovation at Byrne’s bow-out with the frustration at the start of Madonna’s “Sticky & Sweet” world tour in 2008. The 40,000-strong crowd in Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium was restive, spending 90 minutes doing bored Mexican waves until the “Queen of Pop” deigned to appear. She ended with no encores and signs aggressively flashing “game over.”
Madonna’s star was said to be fading after a split from her record company and husband. Few would have predicted that, at age 50, she was starting her most successful tour. The 32-nation extravaganza made $408 million, the highest grossing tour for a solo artist, according to promoter Live Nation Entertainment Inc.
Sandwiched between the late start and abrupt end was a high-octane, two-hour spectacular complete with lasers, strobes, dry ice and sexy dancers gyrating though break, pole and flamenco routines.
The tour’s revenue continues to grow with the inevitable concert set: a DVD or Blu-ray capturing the visual fireworks and a CD that gives a taste of the music. It’s intriguing how note-perfect Madonna is while running around and doing splits.
The show was filmed in Buenos Aires. The crowd gives a wild reception to the schmaltzy “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” a tip of the hat to Eva Peron, another former first lady.
“Madge” draws heavily on her disco-led “Confessions on a Dance Floor” and “Hard Candy” CDs and sounds a lot better than at the first show in Wales. “Candy Shop” is great and “Like a Prayer” gets turbo-charged with dance fervor.
Madonna’s next moves -- whether in Malawi, on the amorous front or in music -- will doubtless attract more headlines than Byrne. She will outsell him, of course, though she’ll never match the mad chemistry-lab of his imagination.
Rating: ** 1/2.
What the Stars Mean: **** Excellent *** Good ** Average * Poor (No stars) Worthless
Download fees vary across services. “Here Lies Love” (Nonesuch) is $14 or $28 for a special edition with a book and DVD. “The Sticky & Sweet Tour” CD/DVD is priced from $15 and Blu-ray from $20 (Warner Records). Information: http://www.davidbyrne.com, http://www.madonna.com.
(Mark Beech writes for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)