Amanda Palmer & the Grand Theft Orchestra - Theatre is Evil (2012)

Cosmic Harmony

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Dec 8, 2009
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1. Meow Meow Introduces The Grand Theft Orchestra
2. Smile (Pictures or It Didn't Happen)
3. The Killing Type
4. Do It with a Rockstar
5. Want It Back
6. Grown Man Cry
7. Trout Heart Replica
8. A Grand Theft Intermission
9. Lost
10. Bottomfeeder
11. The Bed Song
12. Massachusetts Avenue
13. Melody Dean
14. Berlin
15. Olly Olly Oxen Free

Amanda Palmer's entire career is founded on her ability to write deeply introspective, personally songs and deliver them with such intensity that they can shake some people to their very core. Her latest album "Theatre Is Evil" is nothing short of that.

Here's a little bit of back story... For the earlier majority of Amanda's career (the Dresden Doll albums as well as her first solo one) she was on Roadrunner Records and for a slew of reasons was very displeased with it. She was finally released from her contract several years ago and while I imagine not having a record label would be very distressing for most musicians Amanda handled it in stride. This was her tactic....

She turned to Kickstarter with the goal of $100,000 so the record could be mixed and promoted. She eventually ended up raising almost $1.2 million and is, by a very sizable amount, the largest fundraiser in Kickstarter history. It peak at #10 on Billboard and it was worth every penny raised.

Since it's release last year, I have listened to this album extensively and I can say beyond biased adoration for Amanda that this album is astounding. With all due respect for The Dresden Dolls and especially their first album, which will always have a special place in my heart, I believe "Theatre Is Evil" is the most magnificent album Amanda has ever put out in any of her projects.
Earlier in her career she was rooted to her piano and the structure of arrangement of her bands. Which is to say that with The Dresden Dolls and her previous solo output there were certain ways that the songs could be written with the tools she had in front of her. With this new project there were limitless possibilities in what could be done and rightfully so, why would anyone start a new project like this if they were just going to use it do exactly what they'd done in their other ones? With The Grand Theft Orchestra, Amanda was able to step out from behind her piano and become this down to earth rock goddess that a tremendous, captivating woman like her always had the potential to be.

As many times as I have personally listened to this album I still have trouble describing what is so dynamic and spectacular about this album without just having someone listen to it but I'm still going to try. Here goes....
"Theatre Is Evil" is like the soundtrack to some incredible, bohemian film that never really existed in the first place. Amanda is as much a visual artist as she is an audible one and every song on this album has a very vivid scene to be painted by the imagination. The songs on this album are heavily texturized and layered, with the key instruments being accented by bursts of unconventional percussion, horn sections, and some of the best use of synthesizers I've ever heard. These are used consistently well on each song whether it's a grievous ballad (Trout Mask Replica, Berlin, The Bed Song), an infectiously heartwarming romp (Melody Dean, Lost, Massachusetts Avenue), a monumental wall of sound (Do It With A Rockstar, Smile), or anything in between. It is a very rare thing for me to listen to an album and not only love every song on it but to be utterly and totally impressed with the progressive and ground breaking nature that this group has produced by amalgamating alternative music, piano rock, cabaret, sonic theatrics, pop harmonies and melodies, and astonishing songwriting that puts a highly poetic view to the world as view through one individual's life.
The poetry of the lyrics themselves are some of the finest Amanda has ever written in her pop art style of lyricism. They have the detail and danger of Patti Smith (whom I personally compare Amanda to a modern version of) as well as the effectiveness in their delivery that even simple lines like "I'll be fine in a minute" or "I just can't explain how good it feels" hurts you like a wound being reopened as they are reinforced over and over.

While it's very difficult for me to pick out favorite songs from this album here are a few that I have been listening to the most:

The Killing Type

This is not one of the strongest songs on the album in terms of music but it IS the best song in terms of lyrics. This is a perfect example of how Amanda can be likened to Patti Smith. "The Killing Type" is one of those songs that is really just poetry with music being used amplify it's impact a hundred times over. It's all about raw delivery.

Do It With A Rockstar
(The song itself starts 2 minutes in...also there is a bit of ******)

This song is like the rumble you feel as a train goes by and the chorus it like the train actually hitting you....chorus after chorus after chorus. This isn't as shallow of a song as the title might make you believe and if it was I'd be severely disappointed in Amanda. The lyrics are pretty simple (a considerable contrast to the other songs on this album) but the one that puts the whole song into perspective is "I don't want your body, just a part to listen to listen to INXS. All the practice in the world won't get me good as lonelinessless."

Trout Heart Replica

"The Killing Type" may be the best song lyrically on this album but "Trout Mask Replica" is a close second. This is a more traditional, Dresden Doll-esque song and a very personal, appropriately dramatic piece that I believe Amanda wrote about her fan base. It also has my favorite verse on the album...

Killing things is not so hard
It’s hurting that’s the hardest part
And when the wizard gets to me
I’m asking for a smaller heart
And if he tells me no
I’ll hold my breath until I hit the floor
Eventually I know I’m doomed
To get what I am asking for

Now my heart is exactly the size
Of a six-sided die cut in half
Made of ruby red stained glass
Can I knock you unconscious
As long as I promise
I’ll love you and I’ll make you laugh

Simply beautiful...

Melody Dean

Built around the main bass riff to "My Sharona" (which was obviously intentional since the song itself is referenced in the lyrics) "Melody Dean" is the most fun song on this album. The chorus is one of the most infections things I've heard in quite some time.

As far as criticisms go for this album I personally have not one. However, since Amanda's music is most simply described as a synthesis of punk and cabaret it is obvious that her music is not, nor has it ever been for everyone. The more common criticisms are usually with her singing voice or the style of music itself. Which to both I say that she brought her A-Game. Her vocals are the best executed and polished I've ever heard and the songs, while still maintaining the roots of the Dresden Dolls, are very adventurous and like an evolution of her previous works.

Final Verdict?
If I haven't made it clear by now I completely recommend "Theatre Is Evil" with as many thumbs up as a human being possibly can. This is a truly magnificent piece of music to listen to front to back, side to side, up and down and in any other direction. Expertly crafted songs that combine lush rock music with raw expression can clearly be heard from all four members of this band. Amanda Palmer and The Grand Theft Orchestra have unique stylized the avant garde in making this album, not only in how to actually make the songs themselves but in how to go about funding and releasing an album. The fans were asked to donate so that the best possible album and tour would be given back to them in one of the finest displays of the original ideal that fueled punk in the first place; that you don't need a major label to be successful. You just need that genuine bond between fans and a band that says "If you all support us then we will give you every ounce of ourselves in return.". That is a lost art and is one of the many reasons why Amanda Palmer is such an incredible individual. 10 out of 10 in every category.

I now leave you with Amanda discussing "The Art of Asking" on TedTalks. It's worth the time to watch, I promise:

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