Mention Amanda Palmer to those in the know and the name is immediately associated with a piano. Granted, sometimes more time is spent lying across the piano, legs akimbo in the name of cabaret performance, but when she does play it she produces searing, venom-coated ballads. Imagine our surprise then when this fan-funded new record drowns the piano in layers of sound, her Grand Theft Orchestra in ‘Smile (Pictures Or It Didn’t Happen)’ creating a monster of a melody that could have been written by Arcade Fire, with warping echoes reminiscent of Animal Collective. ‘The Killing Type’ changes tack completely, shades of Marquee Moon recreated in the brittle guitar, the punk staccato vocals and the riotous backing chorus take you right back to the late 70s. Lyrically all human life is cleverly woven here. Her uncanny knack for writing the thoughts of the everyman hasn’t been diluted, only once or twice resorting to the cheap joke.
It wouldn’t be an Amanda Fucking Palmer record without tearjerkers. Not the most feminine vocalist, in ‘Grown Man Cry’ she sounds like Bowie at his most resigned, the details of a relationship breakdown relayed emotionlessly, a stuttering synth in the background and Cure-esque jangle guitar ensuring it wouldn’t be out of place on an 80s rock ballad compilation. ‘The Bed Song’ shows her attempt delicacy, fairytale piano and first person dialogue sang in a gentle Regina Spektor tone, a tone not often used by the formidable Palmer. ‘Trout Heart Replica’ brings the piano back to the fore, doubly an anthem for vegetarians and something much less obvious, a heartbreaking minor key masterpiece to be revisited and pondered in the wee hours of the night.
Seventy-one minutes is a trek though, the presence of ‘A Grand Theft Intermission’ as good as conceding this, some songs getting lost in the inevitable album fatigue. Likeable ‘Massachusetts Avenue’ seems overlong purely because of its placement post-intermission. Putting seven minute track ‘Berlin’ as the fourteenth song almost guarantees it’ll be ignored. Second half saving grace ‘Melody Dean’ might possibly be the album’s breakthrough, filling indie dancefloors the way ‘A Punk’ did for Vampire Weekend in 2008. It isn’t Who Killed Amanda Palmer? part 2. It’s all a bit new wave, really. But wasn’t new wave worth revisiting? If you think so, it’s right here.