Dresden Dolls


(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use)
Dresden Dolls (2004), 7/10
Yes Virginia (2006), 6.5/10
Amanda Palmer: Who Killed Amanda Palmer (2008), 6.5/10
Amanda Palmer: Theatre Is Evil (2012), 7/10
Amanda Palmer: There Will Be No Intermission (2019), 6/10
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Boston's duo Dresden Dolls (drummer Brian Viglione and vocalist and pianist Amanda Palmer) concocted an odd hybrid of German cabaret and British punk-rock on the live A Is for Accident and especially on the real debut Dresden Dolls (8ft, 2004). After the piano-based Queen-like introduction of Good Day, the desperately exuberant Girl Anachronism sets the real tone of the Dresden Dolls' punk opera. Kurt Weill's influence permeates Missed Me and especially the hilarious Coin-Operated Boy, but that's just the surface. Their range is much broader. Gravity boasts an anthemic piano progression à la Warren Zevon. The Perfect Fit is a piano-driven recitation rising to anthemic rant in the vein of Patti Smith. The sweet melody of The Sheep Song evoke the fake innocence of the Velvet Underground & Nico (compare with Sunday Morning). The complex, dark and introverted Half Jack and Slide show sophisticated songwriting skills. The closer is an eight-minute elegy Truce, initially barely whispered and later screamed in a crescendo of strings and finally drowned in an outburst of collective instrumental dissonance.

The stereotypical marches and waltzes of German cabaret are better disguised on Yes Virginia (Roadrunner, 2006), a work that relies more on Palmer's lyrics while attempting to broaden the stylistic palette. Sex Changes and My Alcoholic Friends are the explicit references to the cabaret and the music-hall, the former propelled by jumping piano and the latter decorated with a catchy melody. Amanda Palmer now sounds like a consummate front-woman, and Backstabber echoes the Pretenders. The album, in general, is permeated by a more aggressive, almost furious, approach, notably in Modern Moonlight. However, Shores Of California (and to some extent the more radio-friendly Sing) seems to steer towards a soulful, intellectual stance à la Joni Mitchell. Further refining the vocal skills demonstrated in the first album's The Perfect Fit, The seven-minute Delilah tries to match the creative soliloquy of Joanna Newsom. This is Palmer's show, and a drum-less composition like Me And The Minibar makes it clear. Compared with the first album, though, the material seems to falter a bit too often.

No Virginia (2008) collects (terrible) rarities.

Who Killed Amanda Palmer (2008) was Amanda Palmer's solo debut, a collection of austere songs composed over a decade in a broad range of styles, including four piano songs arranged by Paul Buckmaster of Fleetwood Mac (the passionate and martial Ampersand, the soaring and operatic Have to Drive, the elegiac The Point of It All and the agonizing Another Year) and four collaborations with Ben Folds (the romantic lullaby Blake Says, the funereal Strength Through Music, the grotesquely cabarettish standout Guitar Hero and the catchy bubblegum-pop ditty Oasis). The album ranges from the most solemn and pensive piano lieder to much more immediate songs like the David Bowie-esque Astronaut and the emphatic glam-rock of Leeds United.

Amanda Palmer and Jason Webley released the EP Elephant Elephant (2007) and Evelyn Evelyn (2010), both redited to Evelyn Evelyn. Palmer's second solo album was Theatre Is Evil (2012), produced by John Congleton and featuring the Grand Theft Orchestra. The pummeling and bombastic Smile is highly unusual for her. Piano and strings enhance the martial hymn Bottomfeeder. Strings accompany her in Trout Heart Replica and brass highlight the modern cabaret of Berlin. Her expressive voice dialogues with her forceful piano playing in Theater is Evil. She even ventures into power-pop with the clownish ditty Massachusetts Avenue. The album is full of elegant twists and turns.

Palmer's memoir, "The Art of Asking" (2014), became a popular book. She then teamed up with her father Jack Palmer for You Got Me Singing (2016) and with Legendary Pink Dots' Edward Ka-Spel for I Can Spin a Rainbow (2017).

Palmer's third solo album was There Will Be No Intermission (2019). Besides singing, she played piano, ukulele, organ and electronics. The arrangements include a string chamber ensemble, John Congleton on percussion and electronics, Jherek Bischoff on guitars, vibraphone, prepared piano, sub-bass synth and percussion, Max Henry on synths, Jodie Landau on vibraphone and glockenspiel, Joey Waronker on drums, and Jason Webley on accordion. Highlights are the ten-minute philosophical solo-piano meditation The Ride, the lyrical ten-minute piano-driven hymn A Mother's Confession, the solo-ukulele dirge The Thing About Things, and another austere piano elegy Judy Blume. These are pensive, spartan pieces that evoke musical theater. By comparison the faster eight-minute ukulele-driven Bigger on the Inside is rock and roll, and the even faster march-tempo Machete sounds like a cross between Bjork, Joni Mitchell and a folk dance.

(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use)
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