Amanda Palmer: Theatre Is Evil

Theatre Is Evil is taught and spiky and entertaining, but just too strident and earnest to be genuinely great.

It's been a very long time since I've covered a full album on these pages, so it seems fitting that I break that streak with a record that's actually been put together like a real album. So many records these days seem to be just a collection of songs that happen to have been written at the same time, with the best ones put at the start to be sure of grabbing the listener's attention as quickly as possible. The worst ones are just a couple of singles strung haphazardly together with bona fide filler. A real album, by contrast, has an ebb and flow, a structure, a cohesive identity.

Theatre Is Evil, the result of Amanda Palmer's infamous Kickstarter campaign, may have it's flaws but it is unequivocally an album-proper. It's not a concept album, and in fact the songs held within are a stylistically disparate bunch, but it is nonetheless a record built to be listened to from end to end. TIE comes in a deluxe 2-disc vinyl package, giving an extra couple of side-flips, but it's the middle break that feels the most accomplished. There's a fittingly climactic end to the first half of this album in the form of A Grand Theft Intermission, and a suitably punchy start to the second half with the strident drumkit opening for Lost.

Aesthetically the tracks yo-yo from rough and live-sounding to smooth and heavily-produced, but throughout the linchpin holding this record together is Ms. Palmer's voice - specifically her sometimes-delicate sometimes-overbearing delivery - and the narrative-rich quality of her songwriting. These two elements are put front-and-centre in the obvious singles Want It Back and The Killing Type, but it's the less immediately accessible tracks like Bottomfeeder and The Bed Song that reward a listener with more patience.

Lyrically Palmer may be adept at setting a scene with subtle and effective gestures, but when it comes to the production values we're into primary colours territory; when this record shows its rough edges they really are rough. A grating melodica-esque synth sound permeates most of the record, and coupled with the punk-by-numbers guitar riffs it alternates between being powerfully raw and intensely irritating. The result is that the album has a real bite to it that many of the overly smooth singer/songwriters of today could learn from, but ultimately Palmer's mannered delivery ends up feeling simply fatiguing. Theatre Is Evil is taught and spiky and entertaining, but just too strident and earnest to be genuinely great, and ironically for an album I'm lauding for being a 'complete work' it's far better taken in small doses.

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