Release Date: Sep 11, 2012
Record label: 8ft. Records
Ex-Dresden Dolls star Amanda Palmer made news this year when she raised $1.2 million on Kickstarter, but her third solo album dispels all thoughts of revenue streams. You could call it retro: the synths, tensile guitar riffing, and hiccupping Lene Lovich vocals are pay homage to late Seventies-early Eighties New Wave and Goth-pop. ("Melody Dean" is straight-up "My Sharona" tribute.) But Palmer’s sharp songwriting and inventive arrangements transcend pastiche.
As one half of the punk piano cabaret duo Dresden Dolls and as one half of Evelyn Evelyn, Amanda Palmer had a thriving musical career long before she went solo. But solo albums unlocked a new room in the cramped, creative attic of Palmer’s brain. Suddenly her songs and her sound had space to live and grow, to stretch in unimaginable ways—like the kid performing on buckets downtown being handed keys to a recording studio.
Amanda Palmer linked up with The Grand Theft Orchestra, stitching together each entity’s dark beauty to make the sweeping, burgundy satin expanse that is Theatre Is Evil. Much of this record seems to reflect on our current cultural norms, (instant gratification), and those that have been par for a while (drunken sleepover parties). A lot of the analyzation is spouted blatantly with tongue wedged in cheek, cloaked in hi-fi production and chamber instrumentation.
Amanda Palmer is known these days as much for her prolific social media presence and unparalleled fan interaction as she is for her music. Bucking the usual path to album production, she crowd-sourced funding through Kickstarter and raised over a million dollars from her devoted fans. The result is a hefty disc permeated by ’80s synth and sweeping orchestral arrangements.
Funded by a Kickstarter campaign that raised over a million dollars, post-punk cabaret ringmaster Amanda Palmer's first outing since 2008's Who Killed Amanda Palmer is bursting at the corset seams with the kind of feral yet laser focused energy that can only come from someone with the moxie to list themselves in the credits with the word "fucking" in between their first and last name. Palmer and her Grand Theft Orchestra build Theatre Is Evil on a foundation of retro-neon concrete (the 1984 Robin Williams, Soviet-era comedy Moscow on the Hudson is referenced at one point) with delinquent panache, giving nods to 'Til Tuesday and Kate Bush ("The Killing Type"), David Bowie ("Grown Man Cry"), the Knack ("Melody Dean"), and even Alphaville (the intro to "Want It Back" threatens to explode into "Forever Young" before morphing into a summery, upbeat radio jam that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on the Cars' Candy-O). The band then skips ahead a decade on the beautiful, string-laden epic "Trout Mask Replica," which recalls Tori Amos as filtered through Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness-era Smashing Pumpkins.
Well. Shoot me for the faithless dog I am, because I wasn’t convinced that she could top Who Killed Amanda Palmer? but she’s gone and done it with headroom to spare. With Theatre Is Evil, Amanda Palmer unambiguously announces herself as a major artist beginning to flex abilities that could, if she wishes, propel her angry, sad, funny, compassionate muse right into the fatty heart of the mainstream.
Performance artist, former Dresden Doll, tweeter, poseur, bisexual and wife of goth fiction god Neil Gaiman – Amanda Palmer's bohemian pursuits have rather overshadowed her music until now, but her third album reveals a vibrant songwriter as keen on the rigours of classical piano, polka and waltz as she is on punk; imagine Regina Spektor doing My Sharona, or Siouxsie yelping her way through Tori Amos' Choir Girl Hotel. Smile (Pictures Or It Didn't Happen) unfurls into a gargantuan pop song with a rolling accompaniment of what sound like a thousand saws; The Bed is an icy little tale of two lovers from shared sleeping bag to grave. Palmer financed the album through the crowd funding site Kickstarter – she's got a personal army of fans who pay her to do private gigs in their living rooms.
Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft OrchestraTheatre Is Evil[8 Ft. Records; 2012]By Ray Finlayson; October 4, 2012Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGTweetIn the fray of the controversy surrounding Amanda Palmer asking musicians to play for free, and then subsequently deciding to pay them, she pleaded a simple sentiment: "Do me a favor. .
AMANDA PALMER plays the Phoenix Friday (November 9). See listing. Rating: NNN It's impossible to talk about Amanda Palmer's first post-label album without getting sidetracked by how it was made: the excitement generated by her raising more than $1 million through Kickstarter, and then the backlash after she tried to get string and horn players to perform onstage for free.
Is this the way they say the future's meant to feel? Or just 24,883 people funding a project on the internet? I had the every intention of being perhaps the first writer to cover Theatre Is Evil without resorting to discussing the money issue. Turns out, I’m not that good a critic, especially when there’s enough material in the subject to more than meet this review’s word count. Of course it goes without saying that the numbers really are quite astonishing (record breaking crowd-funding figures, over a million dollars donated, a slew of articles questioning whether this spells the end for the record company as we know it, or if such an achievement was only possible because of the support of Palmer's original record label – no matter the acrimonious nature of their break up).
The problem with Amanda Palmer is that the 'stuff' tends to overshadow the music: She's a social media obsessive, a born exhibitionist who's frequently naked on the internet, an overt and proudly opinionated feminist who always has a ton of creative projects on the go, and somewhere down the line she developed a baffling fascination with the ukulele. The very week her album is released she's embroiled in an online tussle with various musical bodies following her appeal for string and horn players to join her on tour for nothing more than free beer and a good time. It's triggered a fascinating debate about the value of the artist, not least at the Quietus, in which Palmer has been eloquent even on the back foot while everyone from Steve Albini to the American Federation of Musicians have attempted to put the boot in.
There’s been much anticipation surrounding Amanda Palmer’s post-major label debut. Between a newfound sense of freedom and confidence musically and her Kickstarter project raising the highest amount in the company’s history, it seems that ‘Theatre Is Evil’ was always set to be something bigger and better than her previous work.Fearless in her new project, Amanda has created a grander production than ever before, allowing herself to teeter on the poppier-edges that she’d previously avoided. ‘Massachusetts Avenue’ is a prime example; a staccato bounce leads into a synthesised bridge, soaring vocals and catchy beats typify the song’s lure.