By now Amanda Palmer has worked her way into the Internet consciousness one way or another. People have opinions on her relationship with Neil Gaiman. People have opinions on her being a Kickstarter millionaire (but not really). People have opinions about her asking fans to join her onstage and play music for free. What may be harder to find people talking about is the root of all of these things and that is her new album Theatre is Evil, a collection of 15 tracks which feature Palmer's debut collaborative effort with a full band.
While 2008's Who Killed Amanda Palmer is Palmer's first solo album, it wasn't really anything unexpected. Other than a few fancy flourishes (and notable missteps), it didn't sound unlike a reworking of Dresden Dolls songs. Theatre is Evil certainly has enough of the Palmer style that fans (and detractors) have identified but it also features her most obvious pop and rock influences to date. From the album's intro (ripped off from Jane's Addiction) to "Melody Dean" (which features an open theft of the melody "My Sharona"), Theatre is Evil pours out like an open letter to bands and styles Palmer has always loved but never dared attempt. The perfect example of this is the track "Massachusetts Avenue" which Palmer wrote years ago as a "Ampersand" style ballad but was never satisfied with. With the input of her band "Massachusetts Avenue" is played at near double the original tempo and makes a near perfect pop song on Theatre is Evil.
Thematically, Theatre is Evil treads the fairly well known ground of personal isolation and failings in relationships of all kinds. Where this album triumphs is the power of the hooks and choruses, thanks to the new pop aesthetic. Tracks like "The Killing Type" build on a fairly simple melody until the chorus comes in with highly distorted bass and a hollering call and response. It's the kind of urgent pleading that used to be carried solely by Palmer's voice but is now given full form with additional instrumentation and backup vocals.
The major benefit of this growth in musicians is not the crushing wall of sound they can provide, but rather the contrast they provide to the music. In many Dresden Dolls material there is no telling what direction a song may go. A track like "Good Day" may start mellow but before the end it's crashing drums, banging keys and hollering. While it was a tool the Dolls used effectively, it also always kept the listener a bit wary, never trusting the initial offerings of a song. On Theatre is Evil the lines are a bit more clean cut so when a track like "The Bed Song" comes on, the listener is immediately able to open themselves up to the song (which coincidentally helps it land the emotional uppercut that comes as the song progresses).
Theatre is Evil is a big risk for Palmer (and not just because it was largely crowd sourced). By taking a more pop route Palmer can easily alienate her current fanbase, while not guaranteeing to win over any of her detractors, who can easily find close enough ties to Palmer's previous work to continue to object. However, as a purely artistic endeavor, Theatre is Evil is a great example of an artist who is still passionate about music, making the art they love, on no one else's terms. You can argue about anything else, but that fact is undeniably refreshing.