Album Review: Amanda Palmer – Who Killed Amanda Palmer?

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Amanda Palmer of The Dresden Dolls has long been one of those musicians who views music as an art form. Her art just happens to combine dark themes, makeup, costumes, the piano and more often than not, a singular vision. Plus, most bands can’t be described using the term Brechtian, so with Palmer completely left alone to her avant-garde devices, her debut solo album carries with it a lot of hype and questions.

The album was produced by and features Ben Folds, the title is a Twin Peaks references, it was recorded in Nashville and Scotland among other places and there is even a companion film to go with it. Songs have been leaked months in advance and the press has been anticipating the album all year long. Many fans have also wondered what kind of actual solo album this would be. Would it be scraps and leftovers from Dresden Dolls material or something new? After touring with some more mainstream bands, would Palmer sell out? Would the album be all piano?  So with all of this going on and these questions building up, is it any good?

The album starts off with a track that features Folds, called “Astronuat(A Short History of Nearly Nothng)”. It’s not quite as poppy as stuff off Yes, Virginia, but still features the trademark ‘loud-then-soft-then-loud’ piano work by Palmer. It also features a little more advanced percussion than expected from her solo effort. “Runs in the Family” is indicative of the whole album. It’s very grandiose and features full string sections and even some electronic instrumentation. “Leeds United” can be described as bombastic, if you are the type of person to actually say bombastic. It sports an over the top horn part, where Palmer takes her voice to the limit, and it features lyrics like, “Who needs love/when there’s southern comfort?”

“Strength Through Music” is dark and eerie. It combines a bizarre sample from an online cartoon series mixed with emotional lyrics about school violence and death. The haunting piano melody behind everything really packs an emotional punch, too. The track is followed immediately by “Guitar Hero”, which is the rocker of the album and is poised to be an underground college radio hit. It’s reminiscent of songs like “Shores of California” and “Dirty Business”. “Oasis” is one of the more challenging songs lyrically. It revolves around rape and the trip to the abortion clinic right after. Musically, the song melds 50’s styled pop rock beneath some edgy lyrics. This combination is similar to the formula for Dresden Dolls songs (challenging lyrics with an interesting music choice behind it), but having Ben Folds produce it, this track sounds slicker and more complete.

The album and songs on Who Killed Amanda Palmer? answer all these earlier questions. Ben Folds does indeed add something special to the album. His pop sensibilities and mainstreamor independent capabilities help the album tremendously. Palmer has not sold out, she is still one of the stronger female lyricists in music and flexes her writing muscle through the album. She is constantly challenging the listener with her words. Sadly, no Twin Peaks references are really found in the album lyrics.

All the material is fresh and new sounding. This is not a Dresden Dolls album, it is an Amanda Palmer album and it shows. With the more over the top nature of the orchestration of the songs, it should be interesting to see how her work here carries over to the next Dresden Dolls album. So yes, the album is good. It will no doubt bring some new listeners over to the Dresden Dolls. The album as a whole is not for everyone just due to the challenging artistic nature of the work, but there is an emotional attachement to a song for anyone who wants to discover it.

Overall, Who Killed Amanda Palmer? contains some of the strongest work by Palmer. As a solo artist, Palmer is a little more approachable than with the Dresden Dolls and the whole image of that band. In fact, the music in many songs have a very innocent feel that play off the darkness of the lyrics. For those unfamiliar with Palmer or the Dresden Dolls, this is a good place to start and for the fans, it’s definitely something new to enjoy.

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