Amanda Palmer‘s second solo offering (and her second consecutive record with her name in the title, fact fans), Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under, sounds like it was almost never intended to be an album.
For starters, most of the songs here are taken from live shows in Australia and New Zealand; only a quarter of were actually done sans a live audience. However, if you’re willing to give this album a chance, it will eventually charm you in the same that her previous LP, Who Killed Amanda Palmer, did. Sometimes the live setting actually seems suitable for some tunes and, for the most part, it is not too distracting. It also adds an air of spontaneity and looseness to it, which is in stark contrast to the elaborate and slick production job of the last record.
The lead single, Map Of Tasmania, is a massive red herring in terms of sound and, thanks to The Young Punx, the closest she’s come to making a radio hit; that is, if a song about pubic hair could be considered a radio hit. It’s a loud and proud electro-stomper that is totally different to anything she has done. It’s also undeniably catchy, no matter how much you don’t want to be swayed by it initially.
Thankfully, for those who aren’t impressed with Palmer’s sudden change of direction, this is her only foray into synthpop. The rest of the album is an eclectic mix of the piano ballads that made her such an enthralling artist in the first place, some ukelele ditties, nods to her cabaret roots and a couple of covers.
It’s these constant changes in dynamics that make for an entertaining listen. Preceding Map Of Tasmania is a humorous piano-led story called Vegemite (The Black Death) about a relationship that’s gone awry due to someone’s obsession with the Aussie equivalent of Marmite. On the other side is In My Mind, a minimalist chirp of a song with assistance from Dresden Dolls companion Brian Viglione. However, musical shorts like New Zealand and We’re Happy Little Vegemites act as gargantuan filler that, whilst probably fun in a live setting, doesn’t translate well on record.
Bad Wine And Lemon Cake (The Jane Austen Argument) is a clever duet with songwriter Tom Dickens, and the first of three covers. The second, A Formidable Marinade, originally by gypsy cabaret troupe Mikelangelo And The Black Sea Gentlemen, will come as a treat for those who have been fans of Palmer since the Dresden Dolls days. The third, a cover of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds‘ The Ship Song, is by far the best of the three; it’s a moving and gorgeous rendition that closes the album with grace and elegance.
If you ignore the obvious filler and give it time to wash over, Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under is an enjoyable set of songs that will linger long in the memory. If an album that was created in a highly spontaneous manner is this good, you wonder how good a more focused effort could be.