By Stuart Thembisile Lewis
Theatre Is Evil, Amanda Palmer‘s new album with her new backing band The Grand Theft Orchestra, is a heart-breaking and breath-taking crowd pleaser.Made up of percussionist Michael McQuilken, multi-instrumentalist Chad Raines and bassist Jherek Bischoff, the Orchestra has allowed her to grow her sound incredibly. Palmer, former singer and piano player of musical duos the Dresden Dolls and Evelyn Evelyn, has stepped away from the punk cabaret style of her 2008 debut solo album Who Killed Amanda Palmer? and into the territory of new wave pop rock. Not being part of a major label after her split from Roadrunner Records in 2010, Palmer was forced to fund the album through a unbelievably successful Kickstarter campaign. Within 24 hours, Palmer met her target of $100 000. By the time the window for donations closed, she had raised $1.2million and been backed by a quarter of million fans. Theatre Is Evil also holds the record for the Most Successful Musical Kickstarter of All Time.
Despite a small controversy over whether or not Palmer would pay volunteer musicians, the album itself is fantastic. As a long-time fan of both Palmer and the Dolls, I was considerably more than pleasantly surprised by Theatre Is Evil.It has a superbly crafted flow that kicks off with a wall of drums and distorted vocals in “Smile (Pictures Or It Didn’t Happen)”, dips with a soft, painful elegy to a dying relationship in “Grown Man Cry”, rises and falls again, and then finally climaxes with “Olly Olly Oxen Free”. The listener gets to hear Palmer at her most vulnerable and, simultaneously, at her most callous. As PopMatters points out, she shrugs off devastating lyrics like “Killing things is not so hard”, “I want to tell you/I want to tell you/But you’re dead so??” and “Roll off on your side/Like you’ve rolled away for years”. Three tracks stand out above the others. “The Killing Type” comes with a chilling video (see below), complete with copious amounts of blood. In “A Grand Theft Intermission” Palmer finally turns her Orchestra loose, letting them forge a thumping, soaring instrumental piece that would not feel out of place in a blockbuster movie soundtrack. And finally, there is the haunting piano-only lament “The Bed Song”. It’s Palmer alone at the keys and you can taste her loneliness. Theatre Is Evil is powerful and superbly crafted and the Orchestra compliment Palmer’s style perfectly. They’re also apparently fantastic live. Amanda, if you’re listening, please tour South Africa so I can test that theory.