amanda palmer and the grand theft orchestra - theater is evil

Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra: Theater is Evil (2012)

I talked a little bit about my appreciation for Amanda Palmer and what her music has meant to me; so for this entry we’ll focus more on the music for her big Kickstarter-backed album Theater is Evil which I love, and how packaging can make a “thing” (Palmer’s term for the stuff she puts out via Patreon) more than a thing.  So take a seat for a few minutes and let’s get into The Grand Theft Orchestra.

I love that this isn’t billed as simply an “Amanda Palmer” album, because so much of what makes the album work are the musical contributions from the other players, primarily the GTO themselves: Jherek Bischoff, Michael McQuilken, and Chaad Raines.  The collage of instruments and arrangements that come together on early big tracks like “Smile,” “The Killing Type,” and “Do It Like A Rockstar” are essential to what makes Theater is Evil so successful.  But the glue that (obviously) holds it all together is Palmer and her delivery, both as a vocalist and a pianist: she has a mad, angry percussive quality to her playing that recalls a crazed pop Thelonious Monk in the best way.

Classifying the music is a difficult task; “punk pop cabaret” feels the most appropriate. Coming back to the album this time around the thing that grabs me is how good Palmer is at building a hook.  “Want it Back” is catchy as hell, and almost makes you forget what Palmer’s singing about, which in this case might best be explained by watching her uncensored video for the song:

The second half of Theater is Evil is not as immediate with its hooks, but it’s perhaps more substantial and thought-provoking, in particular the three song punch of “Bottomfeeder,” “The Bed Song” and “Massachusetts Avenue.”  Every song has a definite touchstone to the past, the 80s more than anything, but it doesn’t come across as manufactured nostalgia to me; Palmer’s habit of being transparent and exposing herself through her art means that much of what she composes is filtered through her life, a significant portion of which happens to be embedded in the music of her youth.

Isn’t that the case for all of us?

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Finally a note about the packaging for this.  Yes, I was a Kickstarter backer for the project, and yes I have the limited edition “backer” version of Theater is Evil, which means it came in a really nice black book with gorgeous artwork from artists like David Mack, Sarah Beetson, and Francis Bean Cobain.  The package also came with a number of b-sides and assorted extras, so my digital copy of the album has things like a studio recording of Palmer’s “Ukulele Anthem” and a cover of Lana del Rey’s “Video Games” as well as other songs that are equally as good as anything on Theater is Evil but thematically maybe didn’t fit.  Although it all fits into the “thing” that is Amanda Palmer.

And I for one am glad of it.

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