Wed Sep 24 2008
Time Out Ratings<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5
As one half of the Dresden Dolls, Amanda Palmer is probably better known for her flamboyant live theatrics—performing in fishnets and mime makeup, crowd-surfing, reinterpreting “Mein Herr” from Cabaret—than her clever lyrics. It’s doing her a disservice: Legions of fans connect with Palmer because she’s not afraid to bare it all, no matter how uncomfortable the subject matter (see “Bad Habit,” from her band’s self-titled debut, a brutal but achingly true depiction of self-injury).
Stripped of the Dolls’ punk-cabaret aesthetic on Who Killed Amanda Palmer?, her first solo album, her talents as both lyricist and musician come into sharper focus. Her instrument of choice is the piano, and she has an uncanny knack for evoking mood and drama with it, whether she’s intensely pounding the keys (“Guitar Hero,” which also features frenetic noise from the Dead Kennedys’ East Bay Ray) or playing a slow-moving ballad (the mournful “Ampersand”). She creates a world within each song, and you can’t help but be lured in.
In producer Ben Folds, Palmer has found a kindred spirit. There’s the obvious piano association, as well as a shared willingness to tackle touchy subjects (abortion, pedophilia, family dysfunction). But the connection is, at times, too strong: The jazzy horns on “Leeds United” recall Ben Folds Five’s “Army,” while other songs feature chord progressions that sound straight out of Folds’s catalog. It doesn’t necessarily detract from the album—this is still clearly Palmer’s baby—but it’s a shame that even an iota of her fierce personality is diluted.
Amanda Palmer plays Webster Hall Nov 21.
Buy Who Killed Amanda Palmer? now on BN.com