Amanda Palmer is definitely an acquired taste. Best known for
her role as one half of The Dresden Dolls, a 'punk cabaret' band
that were as popular for their gothic vaudeville aesthetic as they
were for their outstanding musical prowess, Palmer has also made
several claims to fame due to her Twitter presence, her marriage to
writer Neil Gaiman, and her frequent bouts of public nudity.
Even so, the bisexual artist is known for her legions of loyal,
slightly fanatical followers. Palmer's latest album 'Theatre is
Evil' was released 10 September - a project that was funded
Kickstarter. Her aim was to raise $100,000 to fund the creation
of the album. She raised $1,192,793 - such is the power of her
A few of these songs have been doing the circuits on Palmer's
tours for years. I remember listening to a live recording of
'Provanity' way back in 2005, a track which is exclusive to those
who purchased the 'Kickstarter Deluxe' package.
'Trout Heart Replica' is a little more recent, coming into
appearance in 2008. The song is newly recorded for her album,
featuring her distinctive voice, a piano and some strings -
reminiscent of the sound we came to associate with the singer's
solo career debut in 'Who Killed Amanda Palmer'. Conceptually,
'Trout Heart Replica' recalls the time Palmer went to a trout farm
and watched as one of the fish was killed, its heart put
nonchalantly to the side by the butcher where it continued to beat.
Whether it was her intention to advocate vegetarianism or not, it's
definitely a striking image and 'Trout Heart Replica' is a
'The Killing Type',
Palmer's second single, is also a powerfully emotional recounting
of a real-life experience. It's the most recent song on the album,
although the event happened sometime in Palmer's twenties. Visiting
the house of an old friend, the singer found a dying bird. She
grappled with her moral duty and eventually decided to put it out
of its misery, which she details - slightly gruesomely - on her blog:
"i walked and walked and walked for days, but my foot couldn't
shake the memory, it kept feeling that soft body, those little
bones, that life that was the size of a balled-up sock.
it was a form of mild post-traumatic stress disorder, phantom
i'm not the killing type.
i'm not i'm not."
Palmer's ability to tell a story through her lyrics is unrivaled.
We see this best in 'The Bed Song' of Track 11. This is Palmer at
her best, just her and her piano. The song chronicles the lives of
one couple (of indeterminate gender) throughout their lives
together, from sleeping bag to graveyard plot, as their sex life
disintegrates and they become alienated from one another. I like to
think it's about Lesbian Bed Death.
'Theatre is Evil' is not all doom and gloom, by the way. The first
single, 'Want It Back', is a cheerful masterpiece of synth pop and
guitars (scroll down for video). The video is amazingly realised,
although definitely NSFW. It also features the line "we're addicted
to the L word" but I'm not sure that means what I want it to mean.
'Ukulele Anthem' is one of the most positive songs I've ever heard,
but is unfortunately only available in the Kickstarter package (or
download from Palmer's website).
The upbeat 'Melody Dean' has a distinct eighties feel about it,
with a riff stolen from 'My Sharona'. It is love song about a
pretty girl and its lyrics make reference to Palmer's
I don't like picking sides I don't like sticking my Sharona in a
I like to spread her out on different crackers, yeah I like the
way she looks
And when I go to bed at night with Melody undressing in my
To go to sleep you know I would rather be undressing you
Unfortunately, the other tracks on the album aren't quite as
quality as these. 'Bottomfeeder' feels like it should have been
written for Palmer's sweeter-voiced contemporary Regina Spektor,
while 'Do It With A Rockstar' sounds like the artist is singing
into a hairbrush in her bedroom. Like 'The Bed Song', 'Grown Man
Cry' is about the breakdown of a relationship; maybe its tedium is
supposed to emphasise how dull the relationship has become, but
it's not convincing.
The singer also recycles a lot of her conceptual influences from
her Dresden Dolls days - which is fine, but the Dresden Dolls did
them better. 'Smile (Pictures Or It Didn't Happen)' is a social
commentary with the same sentiment as 'Necessary Evil' from the
Doll's 'Yes, Virginia' album, and 'Massachusetts Avenue' sounds
like 'The Jeep Song' from their self-titled album back in 2003.
While 'Theatre is Evil' is infinitely better than Amanda Palmer's
last two albums ('Amanda Palmer Performs the Popular Hits of
Radiohead on Her Magical Ukulele' and 'Amanda Palmer Goes Down
Under'), it fails to live up to the cult status of her first solo
venture, 'Who Killed Amanda Palmer'. One can't help but feel if she
had just shaved a few tracks, the record would have had the
potential to become one of the best of the decade. As it stands,
there are some real gems but a little too much filler.
Scroll down to watch the video for 'Want It Back'.