Probably the only subtle thing about Amanda Palmer‘s debut solo album is its cheeky reference to Twin Peaks in the title, Who Killed Amanda Palmer? Everything within the actual grooves of the release is overwrought, overanalyzed, and just plain over the top.
Because of this, it shares equal billing as one of my favorite albums from last year, which is one of my most embarrassing admissions.
Palmer comes across as one of those enormously talented friends that you introduce to your other friends, only to watch her make a total ass of herself when the conversation turns to a topic where she’d be better served by shutting up. She can’t shut up, which is both her vice and her charm. There’s not a doubt in my mind that every utterance comes from deep inside her heart, but as any Midwesterner will tell you: Choose what you say wisely, because once you say something, you can’t take it back.
And believe me, Amanda Palmer has a shitload of things to say.
You can hear her voice crack, break, and bellow—sometimes in the course of one song—making it the most versatile instrument throughout the disc, one that’s chock full of legitimate ones. Yes, producer Ben Folds seemingly had his work cut out for him as he attempted to fit every note on tape, in addition to the whims that Palmer’s larynx presents at each measure. I’ve got no complaints about it either, because he puts Palmer’s chops at the forefront of everything while leaving enough space to let her pound on the ivories and stomp on the damper pedal.
Occasionally, all of Palmer’s catharsis can be a bit too much, particularly when she’s talking shit rather than from the heart. The worse offender is “Oasis,” a lighthearted number about rape, sexually transmitted disease, abortion, and Blur tickets. The juvenilia of the song suddenly sheds light on other moments where you questioned Palmer’s decision-making and, more importantly, it transforms the record from nearly flawless to frustratingly good.
It is perhaps the catalyst for my aforementioned embarrassment. How can I tell you how I’m moved to tears with a line like “I’m not gonna watch while you burn yourself out, baby / I’m not going to stop you / ‘Cuz I’m not the one that’s crazy” (“Ampersand”) knowing that she’ll be throwing out some bullshit like “Oasis” later on?
It tears at the emotional credibility of the rest of the album, but it’s not enough to entirely discount Palmer’s creative muse. There are just too many times when her delivery enraptures me to a point where I don’t care if she’s full of shit, all I know is that I’m taken by her strangely unique persona and belligerent method of grabbing my attention.
It worked, but then again, I’m a fan of Kate Bush and others of her ilk with penchant for theatrical grandiosity and dance hall charms. But Palmer seems more American than her influences, with weird touches of 1920s gaudiness mixed with new millennium sexuality.
Then there’s the honesty—or my perception of her being honest—which may explain why the character of Amanda Palmer is on stage. Because underneath it lies a mixed up and confused person who finds therapy performing in front of like-minded neurotics.
I guess by liking Who Killed Amanda Palmer? makes me one of those ill equipped just enough to enjoy it, and tolerate her actions even after she’s put her foot in her mouth. Amanda Palmer may be better served by shutting up every now and then, but it’s that very lack of self-censorship that makes her so intriguing.