Review Summary: The goddess of cabaret-punk lets strings and keys loose in a jungle of imagination...
Amanda Palmer is more alternative than you.
This of course, is the lady whose very name epitomizes the strange essence of cabaret-punk – think – dimmed lights of backroom stage, fishnet clothing and half-clad show girls and out of key pianos, a neo-30s fusion of punk attitude and bowler hat, mascara wearing types thrown into a sonic mixing bowl and put on tape – its… well, something
to behold, if that is any sort of judgment. As one half of the cult-loved Dresden Dolls (whose future currently lies in the unknown), fans and critics were quick to leap at the news of an Amanda Palmer solo album, with the Alternative Press declaring it the most anticipated album of 2008. And now that it’s here… oh boy was it worth the wait.
Given a luscious dressing up by producer Ben Folds, Who Killed Amanda Palmer?
will find Dolls fans wondering about Palmer’s turn away from the minimal aesthetic her old material, while old critics will find much to embrace in her newfound love for more pop-oriented songwriting. Still, if you haven’t guessed, this isn’t exactly easy listening – This is unashamedly strange
. Everything is twisted ever so slightly in the wrong way – opener “Astronaut (A Short Story Of Nearly Nothing)” drops straight into ten ton piano keys before allowing the dust to settle though Palmer’s soft croons and quirks, a hazy electric fuzz charging through the machine gun rattle that Palmer’s vocals soon become. “Runs in the Family” continues with this stop-gap spazziness, with marching band snares driving the song through it’s frantic pace. That all said, Who Killed Amanda Palmer?
isn’t a complicated album, but its execution is just so unexpectedly delightful that it’s fascinating to hear.
And that’s the thing – there’s something about Who Killed Amanda Palmer?
that’s just so dynamic
. Songs skip relentlessly between polar opposite moods, beautiful and weird, dark and radiant, slow and racy, but Palmer somehow strings it all together with her own unique aesthetic, an off-kilter bohemian chain that only works because of her matchless musical fashion. It’d be easy to criticize Palmer for indulgent songs like her cover of Rodgers and Hammerstein's “What’s the use of Wond’rin”, a sort of tribute to the musical vein of Andrew Lloyd Weber that wouldn’t be too out of place in bedtime scene from Oliver Twist – Yes, its strange, but remember: Amanda Palmer is better than you. “Oasis” too, just may be the most upbeat and funny
song you’ll ever hear about - wait for it - rape, abortion and the breaking of friendship you’ll ever hear, complete with a choral flurry of lovely ‘bap-ba-bap-bas!’ just for good measure. Amanda Palmer is more eccentric than you’ll ever be.
Whether you like the sound or not, there’s no denying that Who Killed Amanda Palmer
is both fascinating and brilliant, if not in an oddball sort of way. But even there there’s appeal – Though the clouds of madness, when that one ray of beauty shines through, when it’s right, suddenly, everything becomes that
much sweeter. That one right piano key just sounds that
much more delicate, that one
perfect lyric strikes ever so deeper than it should, that
much more emotional. Maybe it was intended, maybe it wasn’t, who knows? – who cares?
And perhaps the strangeness is exaggerated here, for delicate beauty is still strewn in abundance throughout Who Killed Amanda Palmer?
“Ampersand” provides a breather from the frantic openers, with gorgeous piano keys opening up to a stunning emotional vocal performance by Palmer. She isn’t though, one to settle for delicacy, with a crashing twist in the middle, and with the listener caught in the middle too late to turn back, she cries the furious line: ‘I may be a romantic/and I may risk my life for it/But I’m not going to die for you/I’m no Juliet’
– It’s sublime. While Amanda’s voice is hardly the most feminine out there, with her rasp and powerful bursts, songs like closer “Another Year” prove it doesn’t matter. Dripping with a sense of foreboding hope, heavy keys falling amongst the twirl of rising strings, it’s a cry of defiance against time itself – “I think I’ll wait another year, I want my chest pressed to your chest, my nervous system interferes, turn all eleven months at best, I think I’ll wait another year”
, sung in the Palmer’s most vulnerable performance yet.
The beauty of Who Killed Amanda Palmer?
doesn’t lie in some majestic, contrived way she makes her music, but in it’s innocence, like a small child bounding in morning-dew fields – Its hard not to smile at it’s quirks and gasp in delight at it’s ceaseless energy. Yet there’s a darkness here that surrounds it all, that envelops every note, another mix in a bag of endless elements. Some will be turned off, others will embrace it, but either way, like her other singer-songwriter contemporaries Bjork or Patrick Wolf, Palmer has continued to carve out her niche with a furious delicacy that can only be welcomed. Amanda Palmer is hella awesome.