The self-portrait of Amanda Palmer’s soul, circa 1985, was a mesh of Michelangelo’s ‘Last Judgment’ and Miró. Like a map from Tolkien’s ‘Lord Of The Rings’, with its mountain ranges of adolescent angst and sea of guilt, Palmer’s troubled soul drawing is illustrative of her humorous self-pity, as if she is laughing through peeled-onion tears.
Bringing this dark comedy to the table for Who Killed Amanda Palmer, she adds a well-rounded solo debut to her encyclopaedia of artistry with The Dresden Dolls and last year’s eyebrow-raising Evelyn Evelyn side project. Co-produced with similarly arch keyboard whizz Ben Folds, the album is rife with trumpet blasts, strings and Palmer’s trademark piano percussion, but it’s not always clear whether Palmer has done a thorough enough job of disconnecting from The Dresden Dolls’ Brechtian punk cabaret stylings to make Who Killed Amanda Palmer more than just another album for the band’s repertoire. Fans of pre-solo Palmer will not feel betrayed as she hikes along a familiar range – especially familiar to lovers of songs like ‘Girl Anachronism’ – with her unmistakable voice providing the signature link to the past as she takes the forked trail toward solo fame.
Thankfully Palmer knows how to interpret the moss on the trees. From her beginnings as a depressing performer, exposing bloody hands and shrieks for an audience of friends, Palmer has sliced and laid open the intricate carcass that constitutes simple existence. Who Killed Amanda Palmer is sufficient proof of something beautiful lying within the (sometimes) ugly. Lead track ‘Astronaut (A Short History of Nearly Nothing)’, featuring former Rasputina avant-cellist Zoë Keating, initially sounds like the hymnic songs of Brendan James before Palmer kills the comparison with some pungent chords and slyly evocative lyrics: “But you are, my love, the astronaut / flying in the face of science / I will gladly stay an afterthought / just bring back some nice reminders.”
Palmer’s poesy is revelatory in her unapologetic tone. ‘Runs In The Family’ is a pristine example of her reluctant acceptance of fate, this time with a medical slant and a rebellious undertone that can only exist in the texts of the intelligentsia. Besides hereditary paranoia what ‘runs’ is Palmer’s meter, agitated and with a spewing power all of its own. Her familiar lower-rung alto is starkly contrasted by her Snow White-like soprano in the unnervingly sweet Annie Clark of St. Vincent-featuring cover of the Rodgers & Hammerstein showtune ‘What’s The Use Of Wond’rin’. Of course, Palmer instantly corrects this sugary anomaly with typically nonchalant references to drunken date rape and abortion in the giddy ‘Oasis’. You wouldn’t expect anything less. Like a true cabaret performer, Amanda Palmer is suggestive and spontaneous, her laced staccato amplifying a generous bosom of secrets like a tightly bound corset.
[Roadrunner; September 15, 2008]