Saturday, December 06, 2008

"Mind" -> Who Killed Amanda Palmer

Amanda Palmer has a little bit of a stomach, and when her record company recently suggested that her video needed to be retouched to present a more attractive body, she told them to go away (in very colorful terms). She said her record company doesn't understand her listeners. This must be true, as her legions of fans have been taking pictures of their bellies and putting them on the internet in protest of her record company.

Her image, and her music, and her fans are not about being perfect.

Every once in a while I do an album review on this site. They are far and few in between because music is covered so much in the press today. What am I going to say that somebody else isn't saying better?

However, "Who Killed Amanda Palmer" is so compelling, I'll throw another log onto the fire. With a title that is a parody of the question asked in the seminal TV show "Twin Peaks," she has create a musically uplifting but lyrically disturbing album.

The few friends and family that read this blog realize that I am a strong Christian, but I believe that all "good" art is common grace. Common grace is that goodness that God gives to the just and the unjust. And Amanda, even with all of her clearly non-Christian stands, is blessed with a lot of common grace.

The music on "Who Killed Amanda Palmer" has just a hint of Ben Folds. This is no doubt tied to the fact that Ben Folds both produced and plays on the album. It was recorded at his studios in Nashville. Ben had called the Dresden Dolls two years ago and asked them to open for him. If you listen very long, you will hear that most of the album is heavily underpinned by piano. Amanda is a piano player, and her songs come out of this instrument. While she may struggle a bit on the vocals, and her piano playing is nothing to write home about, the overall album does have excellent production values.

She first gained prominence with the musical dual "The Dresden Dolls," which was born out of the Boston art scene. If you see interviews with Amanda, you will see that she is an artist first then she is a musician second. For those that think this is backward, let's remember that one of the most constructive and impactful bands of the 80's was the Talking Heads. The heads, lead by David Byrne, was nothing more that art students. Unfortunately, in this fractured culture today, we have little hope that Amanda can drive the same impact as The Talking Heads, which headed a rebellion against the 80's glitz. However, this is not to say that she is not able to impact your perceptions in a similar fashion if you find her on your playlist.

The other half of the Dresden Dolls, Brian Viglione, has decided not to do this album with Amanda, or perhaps Amanda just wanted to be by herself. Regardless, while they did some of the songs together before the album, the album is all Amanda. The roots of the music are clearly in the same vein as the original group, which is no surprise since Amanda was the main song writer.

So, what is the music? The Desden Dolls describe their music as Brechtian punk cabaret. This is a self title in an attempt to be labeled as anything but Goth. However, the music really does have a strong flavor of cabaret type music with a few ballads thrown in. Extremely strong melodic hooks with very strong lyrics that generally have about as much story line as an Coldplay (ie no story), but instead of Coldplay's lack of real poetry, Amanda strikes you straight to the core. Much as in Bruce Cockburn, she can go completely overboard. However, in the midst of her struggles, her lyrics can strike intrinsically gripping thoughts.

If you want to start on Amanda, I suggest Leeds United. This features the original video where Amanda's stomach became the subject of the stomach debate.

Her voice is horse. She struggles a bit with intonation. However, she is brilliant. Listen to the refrain:

but who needs love when there’s law & order
and who needs love when there’s southern comfort
and who needs love
when the sandwiches are wicked and they know you at the mac store

Now the interesting thing about these 12 or so tracks on the album is that many of them have a video made for them. The highest production values is the video above "Leeds United," but if you go to Youtube, you will see that she made video for many of them, and while they are not slick or expensive, each one caries a gripping image to drive them.

The first track on the album is show cased in a simple video for the song called Astronaut (A Short History Of Nearly Nothing).

Somewhat inspired by the Columbia disaster, how can we not hate and love these lyrics.

YES you are, my love, the astronaut
Crashing in the name of science
Just my luck they sent your upper half
It's a very nice reminder
It's a very nice reminder

In this short post, I hope I've gotten you hooked just a bit on Amanda. One of the better people to explore as you do your musical wanderings.

All in all. A very good album.

4 out of 5 stars.

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