On the Dresden Doll’s self-titled debut, singer/pianist Amanda Palmer and drummer Brian Viglione (former performance artists from Boston) use vivid imagery and a theatric stage show to accentuate the Brechtian influence that corresponds with goth, punk, and riot-grrrrl throughout the album. As much inspired by Marlene Dietrich as PJ Harvey and Tori Amos, Dresden Dolls is refreshing as much for its distinct flavor as for the depth of character in the songs within (written by Palmer). “Coin-Operated Boy” is a bouncy, manic piece of odd theatric pop about a difficult girl in love with a plastic boy. It’s the coy counterpart to the much more schizophrenic “Girl Anachronism” (mp3), which alternates shrieks and whispers in galvanizing fashion. Palmer crams syllables and bitter sentiments into arrhythmic patterns that ricochet from Viglione’s drums. Images of vaudeville characters and swooning choreography are omnipresent.
But while remaining a refreshing brand of dark piano pop, The Dresden Dolls can’t seem to avoid painting themselves into a corner. Palmer would be better served expanding her lyricism to compliment the broad palette of the band’s arrangements, as it’d be shame to see a band as competent be relegated to niche status. Gimmickry is merely temporary, and if the band can seem to universalize the themes of their songs while retaining the diversity of their sound they’d be capable of creating some stunning work. As it stands, Dresden Dolls is a delectable throwback to the culture of Weimar cabaret, set as the background to the cerebral musings of a talented songwriter.