Amanda Palmer – middle name Fucking -- has made a pop record, the one she wanted to make, and if millions of dollars on Kickstarter are anything to go by, the one we wanted to hear. How she made this record is no small feat, the recording, pressing, artwork, and subsequent touring have all been funded by crowd sourcing; Kickstarter to you and me. Clearly she’s a woman in demand, a woman people want to hear more from and one of the first fairly recognisable artists to ditch the label and do it herself with the help of the fans. These 15 songs aren’t just hers, they’re mine and yours.
Being the extroverted beacon of cabaret culture that she is, Amanda Palmer and The Dresden Dolls have a very specific feel. In fact they have such a niche sound that they must be one of the few bands that scrap songs for feeling too ‘pop’. The Dresden Dolls released a whole other album of B-sides and unreleased material No Virginia, Theatre Is Evil however is an unabashed, unashamed pop escapade which sees Amanda Palmer, The Grand Theft Orchestra and her throaty rasp traverse dizzying new territory.
The first half of Theatre Is Evil is brimming with possible singles from the fuzzy glam of "Do It With a Rockstar" which sees Amanda Palmer inquisitively interrogate you, to the infectious first single "Want It Back." The latter is an addictive synthy romp of a song whose verses are spat at you:
“ready for attack you’re obsessioned and you’re strangled, cringe like you’re cursed with your wreckingbally necklace, I saw it first and I’ll crush you with my hamfist,”It’s more like slam poetry than any song I’ve ever heard before – think Gary Oldman in Friends—while her chorus couldn’t be more of a sing along if she strung you up by your vocal chords and plucked you herself.
Lyrics and the often monumental delivery of them have always been Amanda Palmer’s strong point and that’s no different here, we’ve seen (all of) and heard her before being witty, crude, and controversial in equal measure. on tracks like "Map of Tasmania." She’s tackled the mundane with the silly beast of a song that is "Ukulele Anthem." Amanda Palmer’s pretty much done it all. So what else can Amanda Palmer offer us that we haven’t already heard? Well more of the same by and large (which isn’t a problem) but Theatre Is Evil surpasses that and flips without thought or question from funny and crude to emotionally savage.
Fundamentally though what Theatre Is Evil does is showcase Amanda Palmer as a story teller. Each of her tracks is a character study as vivid as any novel you will ever read. She’s always done that, but here it feels like she means every word from the bitter to the farcical. The moody guitars and sultry Depeche Mode-esque beats of ‘Grown Man Cry’ are hilarious in contrast with lyrics like:
“you were standing on the corner throwing down the gauntlet, it is not a life decision, you just need to pick a restaurant”But this quickly flows into darker more desolate depths.
Its clever juxtapositions like this which highlight Amanda Palmer’s unique ability not just to write refreshingly stark songs, but to also have them heard. The seven minute "Trout Heart Replica" is a violin sobfest on the surface, all delicate tinkering piano’s and Wizard Of Oz references. It comes across as a modern, less terrifying "Meat Is Murder" and it’s perfectly acceptable to take it that way, but reading into it more it’s a startlingly bleak allegory for a smothering quality we all have in our lives.
Death in particular is a subject tackled a lot here and "The Killing Type" is one of the best songs on Theater Is Evil. It’s gently addictive as the guitars are strummed with all the rigidity of a ticking clock. It goes hand in hand with the systematic lyrics which are the bloody and forever beating heart of the song:
“I wouldn’t kill to win a war, I don’t get what they do it for, it’s all so terribly vague, I see the pictures from 1000 years of battle and I think it’s such a bore.”It’s such a simple song and yet it’s more effective and visceral than any other here.
At 15 songs, the majority of which supersede four minutes, Theatre is Evil is a record worth the million dollars it’s already received and it deserves whatever miniscule amount you will be charged for it. In fact you should probably give Amanda Palmer extra just for grit.
Towards the end of Theatre Is Evil some of the songs wane. "Melody Deane" and "Bottom Feeder" for example seem to drag on, which is perhaps simply because all the longest, slowest tracks come after the ‘interval’ so to speak. Then again, the last verse of "Bottom Feeder" is the best one, it’s just it takes about five minute to get there. It’s not that these songs are bad, they’re just not as instantaneous and it’s not about the speed, it’s about the melody. "The Bed Song" for example, which documents with heartbreaking accuracy and intimacy the breakdown of a relationship in a slow burning ballad, which sets alight this half of the record in truly brutal fashion. In comparison with this, other tracks just seem skippable.
Theatre is Evil is one of the most alternative pop records and poppiest alternative records you will ever hear. It takes time to sink in and it’s definitely not for everybody, but haters be damned, Theatre is Evil is one of the most interesting records of the year.
Theatre Is Evil is out now.
- The Killing Type
- The Bed Song
- Want It Back