“Wow”; the first word that will pass your lips when the Intro track ends on Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra’s album ‘Theatre is Evil’ and opening track Smile (Pictures or it didn’t happen) begins. In fact it is this breathy interjection that will escape the lips of most listeners at several points during this impressive album. The album, coming from the former lead singer of the phenomenal Dresden Dolls (Coin Operated Boy, Shores of California) is essentially one of two halves; lifestyle driven cabaret punk tunes on one side, and piano based evocative numbers on the other.
Smile begins with a thudding drum beat, likely to make you jump slightly after Meow Meow’s echoing introduction, before Palmer’s vocals, riddled in reminiscence of the ’70s and ’80s most edgy and loved female vocalists from the Punk genre, fade in to the song. Initially there is no air of punk despite Palmer self-proclaiming a Punk-Cabaret style; it is certainly theatrical; the orchestra in full dramatic effect, in-line with the regretful lyrics being sung powerfully by Palmer. The song goes on for almost 7 minutes however there is no anticipation for it to end; it is incredibly enjoyable to listen to it build up to an orchestral finish with Palmer achingly holding a passionate note over strings, drums and guitars. Do it With a Rockstar , a track with an undeniably rock and roll title, lives up to expectations; following a somewhat trippy and echoing intro, this is a modern punk song, through and through; accounting for all the reckless and excessive behaviours associated with the genre. It is such a joy to listen to; sincerely dirty rock, with Shirley Manson style vocals and the lyrical ability to conjure memories of your messiest night out. The pace is changed considerably by Grown Man Cry; it is one of those emotional tracks that at one stage in our lives resonates with us; relationship breakdowns or the loss of a loved one are hardly rare occurrences these days, and both situations could be drawn from this emotional song. The song is heart-warmingly honest; it is not cryptic, it doesn’t hide by clichés or overly poetic imagery. Instead it is true and simply puts forward the unfortunate reality of the situation. One particularly notable track on ‘Theatre is Evil’ is Want it Back which already gained some attention with a rather controversial video which comes with a warning: “Not safe for work” (See Below). It is a funkier track than those that precede or follow it with a fantastic synth arrangement that renders the song more than just a kooky number by a non-conforming female singer; it is a fun, somewhat sun-kissed song and although it could not be further from the style of Dresden Dolls, something in lyrics brings to mind some of Palmer’s former band’s hits. The latter part of the album continues in a very “Dresden Dolls” style right down to the piano-style. Lost begins metaphorically relating losing a wallet to account for the more serious things that we lose in life; a sense of purpose, loved ones, referring specifically and poignantly to her Step-Brother who passed away at the age of 21. It is a touching song with an uplifting message; nothing is ever truly lost, even those who pass away will still visit you to make sure everything is OK. Melody Dean takes the album back to the punk set-up with a “My Sharona-esque” guitar riff, and obvious ode to the song given it even mentions the famous Punk anthem. It also draws attention to her well documented Bi-Sexuality as it tells the story of her attraction to the mysterious Melody Dean through the medium of absolute modern punk-mastery. The 15th and final track Olly Olly Oxen Free ends the album on angsty footing with a typical one-beat downstrum guitar, impressive drum rolls and thick vocals from the lady of the moment.
This is one impressive follow-up to Palmer’s 2011 album, Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under. It is astonishing and beautiful in a gritty, honest way with an exciting array of instruments, song meanings and thought-provoking lyrics. Palmer is known as one of the most outrageous, creative and forthcoming musicians and songwriters in the industry and this album does not disappoint. It deserves incredulous praise, not just in reviews by those who cast a critical ear over music as a hobby or for living, but in the form of a fan passionately singing along to any given song. Many of the softer songs are ideal for dark moods; solemnly ‘alone time’ listening, while the punkier or more up-tempo numbers are ideal for group preparation for a night out. It is both emotionally provocative and the voice of a wild and frivolous lifestyle; much like the intriguing Palmer herself.