Amanda Palmer’s first solo CD, Who Killed Amanda Palmer?, is three parts raging emotion, one part cooing delicacy. The album bears little resemblance to her work in the post-goth, dark cabaret sound of The Dresden Dolls which she founded with Brian Viglione in 2001. That unmistakable voice — undimmed by recent surgery to remove nodules — is certainly recognizable with its rich alto and belting delivery. But the sonic setting of Who Killed Amanda Palmer? is more of a modern rock affair.
Much of this is due to the production by famed piano songsmith Ben Folds, whose recordings with The Ben Folds Five played a big part in bringing acoustic piano back onto the grunge guitar-dominated pop charts in the late 1990s. Palmer was gobsmacked to receive an email from Folds proclaiming his love for her work.
“He sent a fan letter to The Dresden Dolls’ fansite,” she says. “When I first got it, I thought possibly it was a fake. But it was really him. I exploded with pride!”
Prior to Folds’ offer Palmer’s original concept had been more of a solo piano and voice album. “I first got the idea to put together a really simple, stripped-down, record-in-my-underwear-in-my-apartment-in-Boston kinda thing,” says Palmer. “I had a collection of solo songs that were defined very clearly by their lack of drums. That was the only criteria.”
The ivories are still a dominant part of Killed, but you won’t find many whimsical Tori Amos moments here. This is an audacious, ballsy, feet-stomping woman commanding the keys.
Folds’ intelligent and sympathetic additions of strings, keyboards and guitars creates a gloriously raunchy but surprisingly intricate marriage of punk sensibilities with modern rock; cogent chaos within a carefully crafted musical landscape.
Songs like “Blake Says” and “What’s the Use of Wondering” contribute to an otherworldly, slightly eerie feel — not to mention the included photographs of Palmer as a beautifully dressed cadaver and a faux obituary written by acclaimed novelist and comics creator Neil Gaiman. Songs like “Runs in the Family” and opener “Astronaut” serve to kick up a frenetic pace with Palmer’s strident piano and killer vocals. The lyrics are a great mesh of weird musings and biting confession from the bisexual singer. “It runs in the family, this famine that carries me/ To such great lengths to open my legs up to anyone who’ll have me/ It runs in the family, I come by it honestly/ Do what you want ’cause who knows it might fill me up.”
It was quite a step for the self-professed control freak to hand over these intensely intimate compositions to another producer, but Palmer found the process surprisingly cathartic.
“It was frightening but it also felt really liberating,” she says. “Sexual metaphors abound, but it felt wonderful to let go and submit and trust.
“I had no idea what the fuck would happen, I just knew I was ready for everything.”