CD Review: Who Killed Amanda Palmer – Amanda Palmer

“While you were sleeping, some men came around
Said they had some dimensions to take
I’m not sure what they were talking about
But they sure made a mess of your face
Still no one can stare at the wall
As good as you, my baby doll…
They’ve got the permanent press
And the homes with a stable address
And they’ve got excitement
And life by the fistful
But you’ve got the needle
I guess that’s the point of it all…”
The Point of It All – Amanda Palmer

When Amanda Palmer announced that she intended to release a solo album, the usual jittery anxieties arose in The Dresden Dolls fanbase:  “Is she mad at Brian?  Are they breaking up?  Will it suck?”  I went through similar motions, figuring the tremendous amount of touring and sudden rise to fame had destroyed their happy dynamic.  I didn’t fear much for the quality of the work, given that Amanda writes the Dolls’ songs.  I’d be more worried if Brian released a solo disc in that regard, simply because he has no established track record.

After the project evolved from the planned ‘recording it in my bedroom’ to ‘Ben Folds is producing and there are strings! and things!’, the deadline was pushed back, finally landing in September of 2008.  All live incarnations of solo material were strong, particularly the tracks Astronaut and The Point Of It All.  One supposed solo song eventually migrated onto the recent b-side/random track No, Virginia. My faith was only shaken when the WKAP video series on YouTube launched, with Astronaut being the first song:

My jaw kind of dropped.  Here was one of my favourite songs Amanda has ever composed, feeling muddy, overproduced, loaded with gratuitous strings and muted drums, almost as if being decidedly “Brian’s NOT here!”.  I became very worried that the simplicity of Amanda’s clever compositions, so easily showcased in the piano/drum format of The Dresden Dolls, would be drowned out by the hands of Ben Folds and his zealous use of horns and strings.

But that’s the danger of early releases and leaks:  sometimes, things aren’t quite finished.  I am happy to report that the latest leak – the advance copy of Who Killed Amanda Palmer – has reassured me and left me very satisfied.  Grading the entire album, I’m offering it up a 9/10 on second listen.  That places it on par with most Dolls releases, which should reassure any wary fans lingering about.  It is, however, more ‘mellow’ than a Dolls album, with more slow-paced tracks, effectively setting it apart as a different beast than a Brian-less album.  I’m a sucker for an Amanda slow piece anyway, so it suits me just fine.

Track by Track:

Astronaut (A Short History of Nearly Nothing): Opening the album is one of the most fan beloved tracks of the disc  and thankfully the mix is much more pleasant than the video version.  The drums are crisp and fierce.  The strings feel more blended and less obnoxious.  This allows one to embrace one of Amanda’s most emotional tracks properly.  Gorgeous track.  5 stars.

Runs In The Family: One of the few ‘up’ and rocking tracks of the disc, the rapid-fire vocal delivery alone makes this track stellar.  Very fun and enjoyable track on first listen.  4 stars.

Ampersand:  Ampersand has been a song that has circulated live for years, and it’s nice to finally have a clean studio cut of the track.  Such a simple and delicate song, with minimal add-ons from the live incarnation, make this a winner.  Plus really, any girl with a fierce independent streak can empathize with “Im not going to live my life on one side of an ampersand…”.  5 stars.

Leeds United: The most rocking track on the entire disc, and one of the 3 best by miles.  This is the angrier, more rocking version of Me and the Minibar;  perhaps it’s Amanda after consuming said Minibar?  The rough vocal cut, originally a late-night demo after a night of carousing with alcohol and smokes, was a wise call by Mr. Folds.  It adds to the gritty ‘swilling beer while denouncing love loudly in a bar’ feel, and the horns are sexy.  5 stars.

Blake Says: Blake Says is a touching, poignant song that conjures up Pepper McGowan’s Star coupled with Tori Amos’ Pretty Good Year, with a decidedly Amanda feel.  Slow, soft and sorrowful.  4.5 stars.

Strength Through Music: This one reminds of 672 from The Dresden Dolls’ first album, blended with a healthy dash of Slide, plodding ominously forward with minimal piano playing.  It’s a solid track, with an unnerving feel, but not as strong as others on the disc.  4 stars.

Guitar Hero: My only bitch with this track, and I feel it was intentional due to the name and subject of the track, is the cheesy feel to some of the guitar work featured by former Dead Kennedys guitarist East Bay Ray.  I know that yes, Amanda is referencing the video game, and the lyrics are hysterically funny in a dark way, but every once in a while, the guitar takes a step too far.   4.5 stars.

Have To Drive: This song is haunting in a similar way to Blake Says, but also reminds me of First Orgasm, particularly with the building crescendo of orchestra and male vocals to an enormous swell.  Absolutely heartbreaking lyrically.  4.5 stars.

What’s The Use Of Wond’rin’?: This is the only track I have zero interest in.  Apparently I am not a St. Vincent fan since Annie Clark does most of the vocal work here as far as I can tell.  Blah.  And it’s not even an Amanda-penned song!  3 stars out of kindness.

Oasis:  I know I’m a bit of a weirdo, but one of my favourite tracks on The Dresden Dolls’ first disc is Jeep Song, the 60’s girl group track that completely contradicts the punk cabaret feel of the album’s other tracks.  I love listening to Amanda’s dark wordplay over happy-go-lucky melodies and hand claps.  Oasis is lyrically biting in a way similar to Jeep Song and Lonesome Organist Rapes Page Turner, but happy and fun in the same way as Jeep Song.  Thus, I give you this:  if you liked Jeep Song, you will adore Oasis.  If you skip Jeep Song religiously, you’re going to really hate this.  5 stars!

The Point Of It All: One of my favourites since its live performances, one of which I witnessed during the Fuck The Back Row tour, I am so glad Amanda left this track simple, accented by tasteful strings and left mainly to the vocals and piano.  This song hits a spot in my heart and breaks it in three in ways I can’t articulate.  5 stars.

Another Year: The album closes wistfully sad, with a song that feels similar in some ways to Have To Drive sonically and lyrically.  They complement each other and also feel slightly redundant.  All the same, it’s a gorgeous and simple song and despite how wonderful the build is on Have To Drive, this track’s the stronger one.  4.5 stars.

Who Killed Amanda Palmer officially comes out in September,  Tracks news and grabs samples including Leeds United at Amanda’s Roadrunner Records page.

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