Largely eschewing the pianocentric alt cabaret aesthetic upon which her career has been built up unto this point, Theatre is Evil sparkles, stomps and snarls as it veers confidently into punk, new wave, cock rock and, yes, pop territory.
Review by Bradley Stier
For her first album release in four years, Amanda Palmer has pulled out all the stops. Largely eschewing the pianocentric alt cabaret aesthetic upon which her career has been built up unto this point, Theatre is Evil sparkles, stomps and snarls as it veers confidently into punk, new wave, cock rock and, yes, pop territory.
Opening with the huge, bombastic “Smile (Pictures or It Didn’t Happen),” it is immediately apparent that Palmer has been buoyed by working with her new band, The Grand Theft Orchestra. The sound is a collage of synthesizer washes, guitar fuzz, and driving drums that, at times, envelopes Amanda’s sneering vocal delivery almost to the point of overwhelm. However, under the confident production by John Congleton, that never happens and the listener is treated to a new shoegaze classic.
Around 2/3 of the album mines similar genres of Regan era college radio. There’s the strutting, punk minimalism of “The Killing Type,” the New Romantic heartbreak of “Want It Back” and the New Wave synth-rock of “Massachusetts Avenue.” ”Grown Man Cry” floats on top of a bed of the best Cure styled synths and guitar clearly referencing that band’s Disintegration era. This production adds an extra layer of irony as Amanda’s quietly eviscerates an overly emo lover. Harnessing a Cyndi Lauper-esque yelp for “Melody Dean,” Palmer delivers one of her most fun songs ever, a bouncing, horny ode to getting off while her lover is away.
One of the album’s most powerful moments comes in the more typically Palmer styled track, “The Bed Song.” Over a beautiful piano melody, Amanda tells the story of a relationship from lustful beginning to its quiet, painful denouement. While the song has been part of her live repertoire for quite a while, here she changes her delivery, de-emphasizing the dramatic and, instead, going for a mostly plaintive vocal style. In this new simplicity, the song delivers its emotional gut punch more effectively than ever before.
Sure to be eaten up by the legion of fans that helped fund this project, Theatre Is Evil deserves to be heard by an even larger audience. It is a brash and brave piece of work by an artist clearly in her prime. Thankfully, the world is watching this release and, hopefully, Miss Palmer and her Grand Theft Orchestra will get the attention they deserve.
See Amanda Palmer and The Grand Theft Orchestra on tour now, playing Atlanta’s Variety Playhouse on Sept. 15. For more dates visit: http://www.amandapalmer.net