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Music Review: Amanda Palmer – Theatre Is Evil

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Remember a few months ago when Amanda Palmer (aka “AFP”) made music industry heads swim by getting fans and artistic peers to donate millions of dollars in just a handful of days on Kickstarter.com so that she could make an album and tour to support said album? Well, she’s made that album and released it to the world, but she’s not done turning industry convention on its ear (like Smashing Pumpkins, Radiohead, and Nine Inch Nails before her did). Of course you can get the album, Theatre Is Evil through the usual outlets – Amazon.com, iTunes, etc. But here’s the clincher: If you go to the store at AmandaPalmer.net you can have it for whatever price you want to pay (minimum $1.00), or for free. One more time, that’s zero dollars, zero pesos, zero rubbles—you won’t have to use any of them.

Visitors to the site are greeted with the following message (that is edited, in part, here):

Dear Downloader of Music,

I firmly believe in music being as free as possible. Unlocked. Shared and spread.

I believe that in order for artists to survive and create, their audiences need to step up and directly support them. … If you’re broke – take it. If you love it, come back and kick in later when you have the money. If you’re rich, think about who you might be karmically covering if you really love this record.

The store has TWO versions of the record. One is totally free, and one has a minimum price of $1.00 so that I can cover the cost of covering other artists’ songs.

Once you have it, SHARE SHARE SHARE! … SPREAD THE EVIL! We are the media.

Love, AFP

Not only is she giving the new album to you for whatever price you want to pay for it, she’s encouraging you to have other fans do the same, regardless of which version of it they want. Isn’t all of that exactly what the music industry lawyers want to stop? Mrs. Gaiman clearly isn’t finished making waves.

But, you ask, should I trouble myself, even if it is free? If you have followed AFP out of the remnants of the Dresden Dolls and tracked her creations in the interim – from her work with Evelyn Evelyn to 2011’s 8in8 supergroup project (with Ben Folds) to her self-proclaimed “ninja performances” across the Occupy movement – then the progression that has brought her to Theatre Is Evil is a natural one and this album won’t disappoint. If you were a casual fan of the Dolls and have not been following her growth and progression, the new album may not be exactly what you are expecting.

On the piano, “pianist” was much less an appropriate title for Palmer than “percussionist.” Looking back to the songs of the Dresden Dolls, the keys of her piano were heavy and she hammered them, treating the piano like the percussion instrument it can be, and creating a distinctive Amanda Palmer sound. The piano is softer on Theatre Is Evil, completely missing on some songs, gracefully caressed on others, like “Trout Heart Replica” and “The Bed Song.” Beyond the piano, another of Palmer’s standout traits is her vocal phrasing; breaking sentences (and sometimes words) in their middles and stringing their ends together. Where this would be intensely frustrating in spoken conversation, she uses it to mold the words to the rhythm of the songs, and the song to the words.

Still another is the content and subject matter of her lyrics. AFP continues to challenge an industry laden with songs of romances superfluously succeeding or of romances dying messily by using trout fishing metaphors. She writes songs about an eccentric named Berlin and about the ease with which people in our culture talk about killing other people.

The truth is, Theatre Is Evil is not something that everyone will love, or even appreciate. Amanda Palmer herself is a brash and sassy maven about whom accusations of a flair for the dramatic would not be unjust. She is not one to sit idle while life happens, she happens to life and that comes through in her music. She does not bow to convention and because of that, she and her music are an acquired taste. But if you are among those who have developed that taste, or are willing to give it the old college try, Theatre Is Evil is definitely worth your money – however much of it you want to spend. But do spend something. It is worth even $1 to get the four bonus tracks (19 in total), liner notes and title lettering stencil that comes with it.

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About D. Gabrielle Jensen

D. Gabrielle Jensen is a writer, cosmetologist and amateur photographer - not always in that order - who wants to live in several major cities, feels most at home in general admission at a small concert venue, and dreams of touring with a band as their private stylist and tour blogger and of honing her photography skills. She has tattoos handwritten by three of her music idols and hopes to continue the collection.