Amanda Palmer’s Million-Dollar Album
What does a million-dollar album sound like? Art-pop cabaret songstress Amanda Palmer has the answer. Rather than finance her new album via traditional routes, Palmer turned to her fans and launched a Kickstarter campaign for funding. Eventually raising just over $1M, Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra recorded the fifteen tracks on Theatre is Evil, written over the four years since her previous release, Who Killed Amanda Palmer.
The result is a blend of 70’s Bowie, 80’s New Wave and over-the-top theatrics only Palmer could yowl through. Coming on strong–if a bit overwrought–Theatre goes right for the big moments. Dense orchestrations attack as Palmer calls out phonies and manipulative men, comes out against murder and confesses her own loneliness in the first several tracks following the intro. Her lyrics sidestep any poetic style in favor of dialogue and diary entries. There is little to ponder in the words as she prefers to spell things out–occasionally going meta to explain how she’s singing exactly what she’s thinking. It’s better to listen to the sum than focus on the parts.
All the dramatic chaos takes a break as the first half ends with the piano and strings track “Trout Heart Replica.” Palmer’s dour vocals offer her most thoughtful lyrics as she compares herself to doomed fish, caught and headed to the butcher. At seven minutes, the track could stand to lose a verse or two as not all are essential, but Palmer’s performance relates a trauma to which all the bombast of the previous tracks do not compare.
The second half takes on a lighter, more spirited feel. Starting with “Lost,” Palmer turns what starts as a dull tale about losing her wallet in a couch cushion into a joyous affirmation about life after death: “No one’s ever lost forever / They are caught inside your heart / If you garden them and water them / They make you what you are.” The lift continues through buoyant tracks “Bottomfeeder,” “Melody Dean,” and the funny “Massachusetts Avenue,” in which a woman cannot escape memories of an ex thanks to geographical reminders–she laments, “There’s no other way to get to work!”
Finally, Palmer returns to her theatrics to end with “Olly Olly Oxen Free,” in which she berates an opponent for leading a wasted life. As with other Amanda Palmer projects, Theatre is Evil is music that demands to be heard. It can be aggressive and overwrought, or tenderly heartbreaking. Each track is a performance, often performance art, and another opportunity to see a multi-faceted performer develop that art.