CD Review: Amanda Palmer — Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under

[ 16 ] January 17, 2011 |

Amanda Palmer
Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under
Liberator

By Al Kaufman

There are two basic tenets of a rock concert if you want to get the crowd riled up: 1. Say the city/state/country’s name 2. Say “fuck.”  And if anyone knows how to pander to a crowd, it is punk performance artist Amanda Palmer. On her latest solo CD, which consists mostly of live cuts from Australia shows, she deals almost exclusively with the country down under, and throws in her usually salty language to get the point across. Take the second song, aptly called “Australia.” From behind her gorgeous sounding piano, she contemplates, “I could decide to do these dishes/Time to decide.” The music and her voice swells when she declares: “Fuck it I’m gonna go to Australia.” The crowd dutifully erupts.

And that’s the thing. It’s too easy. It’s a trap Palmer sometimes falls into. For every inspired turn, such as her Evelyn, Evelyn collaboration with Jason Webley, or her gender-bender turn as the emcee in a Massachusetts production of Cabaret, she posts nude pictures of herself to celebrate her freedom from Roadrunner Records, or performs one trick ponies like an all ukulele Radiohead cover album. Her “I’m wild, I’m crazy, but please, please love me” shtick is beginning to show signs of wear.

Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under is Palmer’s most egocentric release yet, and that’s saying something. It’s her love letter to her fans of Australia and New Zealand. It’s the first place outside the U.S. where her Dresden Dolls really made a dent. It’s a place where she would like to have a second home with new hubby Neil Gaiman. But this love letter is so personal, so private, it feels like we’re reading her diary. There was a point in Madonna’s career, when she released the Sex book, when people responded with, “That’s too much. I don’t want to know that much about you. Some things are best left to the imagination.” This may be that moment for Amanda Palmer.

On the intro to “New Zealand,” Palmer admits that she wrote the song in her dressing room. It’s all about her, her depression, her menstrual cycle, before realizing all the beauty of the island nation. She gleefully disregards meter and knows that her adoring crowd will lap it up like so much ice cream on a hot summer day. They do, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Everyone has the right to throw the occasional pandering novelty song into their set. Palmer just has a few too many here. “Vegemite (The Black Death)” is a hilarious showtuney song about wanting her lover to choose between her and that horrible black paste, and it’s a tribute to her that she can get her fans to wildly applaud her denouncement of their favorite food, but is it art, or just a quick joke? And, the question should be asked, what is the difference?

That said, there is some substance. Yes, “Map of Tasmania” (featuring the Young Punx) is strictly a song about the glories of pubic hair, but the thumping beat is addictive,  and the video not only makes Lady Gaga seem like Mister Rogers, but it may also cause a spike in the sale of merkins.

“Bad Wine and Lemon Cake” gives her friend, Tom Jenkins, a chance to get his narcissism on as  they collaborate on his song that has a certain fragile inner strength and Magnetic Fields feel. What is amazing is that someone as self-absorbed as Palmer (and I mean that in the best possible way) works best with others. Even her brilliant solo CD, Who Killed Amanda Palmer?, was a collaboration with Ben Folds. It’s almost as if when she is forced to share, she makes herself bring more to the table than just some egocentric rants. And just listen to her cover of Nick Cave’s “The Ship Song.” What a piano, what a voice, what sheer beauty.

Amanda Palmer is an artist who lives her work. She tirelessly fights for artistic freedom. She is open and fearless, and wants to shock and offend, but at the same time she craves love and attention, as many artists do. It’s a difficult tightrope to walk. Palmer still walks it, but, as much as her ravenous fans may disagree, she may be starting to slip just a bit.

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  1. Oz says:

    A Palmer recording (apologies to Samuel Johnson) is like a dog walking on its hind legs, not done well and one is surprised to find it done at all. Palmer is a manipulative court jester with no talent other than for giving head to old men who might assist a flailing and failing career.

  2. Peter says:

    Dear Oz, in an argument if you need to resort to personal attack you have already lost. Insightful comment may be harder to construct but it’s worth the effort.

  3. caley says:

    I beg to disagree. Amanda Palmer is inspirational to her fans, who DO want to know her thus are excited about the new album, and she is so much more incredibly authentic that the vast majority of musicians out there. She lives for her music and for her fans, and does so highly successfully. More recently, her commitment falls also with Neil Gaiman, whom, I might add, she loves, and it is no one’s business what she does with him privately. Commenting on the stability of her career is irrelevant, as her music, as previously stated, is her life, not just an effort to earn and appease fans, bolster her ego, and generate an income.

  4. Hey a valid revue, however can you please correct the details it’s Tom Dickins and the song is by his group The Jane Austen Argument with Jen Kingwell

  5. travis says:

    The other colaborator in Evelyn Evelyn is named Jason *Webley*, not Jason Wembley

  6. Dave says:

    What a horrible thing to say.

  7. Ravenous Fan says:

    That’s her appeal!

    I love how tirelessly she fights shame, enourages freedom and empowerment, yet still reveals she’s human. She’s one of the most relatable and inspiring artist’s out there. That diary-like feel to many of her songs is something I’ve admired since I first played a Doll record and fell in love.

    If you find all that stuff icky or feel it doesn’t apply to you then that’s fine, but I hope she doesn’t read this review and think she must become more defensive or afraid to connect with fans.

  8. Commentor says:

    I would just like to point out that it is “Jason Webley”, not “Jason Wembley”.

    Congratulations on being featured in Amanda Palmer’s blog.

  9. Casey says:

    The comment above is awful. Why make up assumptions about her sex life that I doubt hve ever happened when all you know about Amanda is that you have listened to her album and disliked it?

    Her album is wonderful, funny, and amazing. Read her blog… She is not selfish, but she is imaginative. She sure dies speak her mind in all her albums, and in her dolls albums. There is nothing wrong with that.
    Her albums reflect who she is, and how she thinks. They are her albums, so why does it surprise you people so much that she mentions herself, her life and her opinions in them?
    She cannot be classed as selfish when she has written an album with funny lyrics about her in it?
    Yes, some of the album is silly, she has admitted it herself, but don’t put Amanda down for it. It’s supposed to be silly. There are light hearted songs in it, and there are beautiful, serious songs.
    She is a fantastic song writer who can write about anything and make it interesting and wonderful.
    So if you don’t like it, the logical conclusion
    would simply be; don’t listen to it.

  10. GingerLovinMind says:

    Oz -What this brilliant and vulnerable artist does with her HUSBAND is irrelevant, and the fact that your mind goes there–rather than to her artistic abilities–says much more about your issues than her talent. It is a shame that you miss the point of her work, but the bitterness of your comments is just pathetic.

  11. Ellie says:

    Ha! Thanks for the bitter uninsightful criticism Oz, instead of making any comment on her art, you instead go for the “oh shes not talented shes just getting ahead by using her feminine wiles, its the men doing it really.” Well done. Now go and find some originality, and start making intelligent comments about something you do like somewhere else.

  12. Al Kaufman says:

    My apologies on spelling Jason Webley’s name wrong. I spell it wrong all the time and usually remember to correct it before I post. I forgot this time. Thanks for letting people know the correct spelling.

  13. Al Kaufman says:

    Sorry about Tom Dickens name as well. There was no excuse for that.

  14. Kat says:

    When a journalist relies on personal attack and personal attributes with which to review an album, I think they’re full of shit. I think they’re trying to plant ideas in people’s heads and become responsible for predicting the downfall of an artist much loved by their fans. Congratulations for writing a harsh article in an attempt to get your work recognized, but your attempts to get yourself a little bit more e-famous are nothing more than a pile of shit.

    Oh and by the way, from an Australian who is Not That Patriotic, I generally hate Australian-themed memorabilia, and I generally dislike my own country in general, so calling Vegemite ‘our favourite food’ makes you look like an absolute moron who knows nothing about this country (And not to white knight Amanda Palmer, but her cheesy references to Vegemite shows that she actually does know this country and it’s people). There are heaps of people in Australia who don’t like Vegemite, including myself.

    Please, if you’re going to review a cd or even an artist, you should be reviewing the work they do. Amanda Palmer must know she writes and works best with others, and that’s why she does it. It’s the artists that think they can stand alone and fail miserably at it that are worthy of your forked tongue.

    It’s okay that you dislike Amanda Palmer, but truly, you’re insulting someone for being themselves and enjoying their life. I hope your life is just as fantastic and colourful as Amanda Palmer’s for you to be able to critique her so harshly on her personal life and decisions.

  15. Dustin says:

    I actually agree. I’m a huge Dresden Dolls fan, and even enjoyed her first solo cd for the most part. But lately Amanda’s self-obsorbed ways are reaching points of the ridiculous. This “album” should have been a EP. She includes live tracks with her babbling for 45 seconds before the music even starts. It ruins the flow. And I’m sorry, I don’t want a track of your audience singing some commercial’s theme song. Aside from that, the album is just too slow. It’s boring. I guess she wanted to just document the songs somehow before doing a “proper” album, maybe? A friend sent me a copy of it, and I’m glad I didn’t spend any money on it, the tracks just aren’t that strong. She’s also selling weird bundles for the album with the same logo printed on everything from neckties to beer cozies. How about instead, you go to a studio, do a solid album of 10 to 12 tracks, and then do a standard tour of various countries. Enough of these cutesie ironic jingles, enough ninja gigs, enough selling werid shit that has nothing to do with the music. And for fuck’s sake, THROW THAT GODDAMN UKELELE AWAY! It’s obnoxious, and you’re starting to become Tiny Tim in drag…

  16. Andre says:

    Amanda Palmer cannot do a solid album because she is talentless.

    Amanda Palmer’s defining characteristic is a complete lack of any talent. She can’t be bothered to learn an instrument, she can’t sing, she can’t wrench a drop of soul out of a note due to her lack of vocal timing and she can’t write a song. She is a dilettante.

    There is no vision here, just a scatter-shot approach as Amanda Palmer desperately throws another piece of crap against the wall to see if anything sticks.

    Amanda Palmer is not an artist. She never will be. She is nothing more than a unimaginative, racist fame-whore, sexting her nekkid ass, covered in spam for the cheapest of commodoties; a twitter following.

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