4 STARS OUT OF 5 (Want to know exactly what our star ratings mean? Check out our explanations here.)
“There Will Be No Intermission”, the most recent LP from Amanda Palmer, was released on March 8th. Those already familiar with Palmer, better known by her stage name Amanda Fucking Palmer (AFP), be it through her Bandcamp, Kickstarter, or patron campaigns, may have already heard much of this album; many of the songs on the new album were released as demos or singles over the past year. This is her first solo album in seven years, recorded over the course of a month with producer John Congleton, with whom Palmer collaborated on her previous LP “Theatre is Evil“. The album will be accompanied by an art book, co-created with Palmer’s husband Neil Gaiman, and an international tour.
This is a heavy album, clocking in at 78 minutes, weighted with darkly woven lyrics and fearlessly confronting serious topics. The first official single, Voicemail For Jill, is the most unapologetic and humane approach to abortion I have ever encountered. Palmer said in an interview with NME; “It really felt like some back office in my brain had been working on this song for me since I was 17 or 18 and finally brought it up to head office.”
I think the entire record reflects this; far from her early poundings on the piano in the group The Dresden Dolls, this album shows how the years have honed Palmer’s piano and songwriting skills. Over the course of the album, she addresses death, grieving, miscarriage, cancer, the difficulties of parenthood, and the backlash Palmer has encountered over the past seven years.
Between choosing to utilize Patreon to fund her work instead of a record label, working with “volunteer musicians,” the socially tone-deaf poem she penned following the Boston Marathon bombing, and even being declared “the most hated woman on the internet” Palmer has been at the center of one controversy or another since almost the very beginning of her solo career. Despite “Theatre Is Evil” being a timely, well-constructed album, its merits were overshadowed by bloggers and internet commentators attacking Palmer for abusing the celebrity status she gained when she married Gaiman. Importantly, she was attacked not just for her words, but for her body, her outspokenness, and her ambition, in many cases by feminists. Many writers have since acknowledged that not only has Palmer grown as a musician and social influence, she has grown as a person. She has learned to own her celebrity power. She has become more careful with her words.
After 7 years of focusing on collaborations, as well as her personal life, this album shows incredible maturity and honesty. Amanda Palmer is not wading in a pop music pond, she has plunged into deep waters. Unlike “Theatre Is Evil”, which featured The Grand Theft Orchestra as her backing music, “There Will Be No Intermission” is stripped down. Many of the songs feature Palmer alone on the piano or ukulele. In classic AFP style, the album contains many intermissions arranged by longtime collaborator Jherek Bischoff.
I think my favorite song off “There Will Be No Intermission” is “Judy Bloom,” a tribute to the author who inspired Palmer. I first heard the song during the Evening with Palmer and Gaiman tour in 2011 and the studio version is a beautiful arrangement of the uplifting lyrics. “Judy Bloom,” “A Mother’s Confession,” and “The Thing About Things,” while hardly pop fluff, serve as beacons of light on an otherwise dark meandering. “Machete,” written about a friend who passed away, is a powerfully haunting ballad and another song that saw a beautiful rearrangement from a demo. Likewise, the studio arrangement for “Drowning In Sound,” which combined Hurricane Harvey with ongoing internet politics, is an eerie and visceral experience. “Bigger On The Inside” features only the ukulele and offers a beautiful look into death, grieving, and being present.
One issue with the album is the length. With 2 songs clocking in at over 10 minutes, and nearly every song other than the intermissions at over 5 minutes, it can be hard to digest in one sitting. This is especially true when considering the subject matter; it can be heartrending to move from a song about abortion to a song about sitting with a friend in the end stages of cancer. Additionally, some of the violin arrangements can be a bit much, adding a shrill quality to an already emotionally charged set of lyrics.
Overall, I highly recommend the album, even if the listener only chooses to listen to a few singles. Amanda Palmer is divisive; if you’re a fan you’ll love this album, but if you’re not this might be a good time to revisit her work. Amanda Palmer revels in making uncomfortable art, and her ability to do so has evolved and matured in a way I am most impressed with.
The tour for “There Will Be No Intermission” will be in Seattle on June 7th at the Paramount. And yes, there will be an intermission.