Review of Amanda Palmer’s “Theater is Evil”

When the Dresden Dolls hit the shelves with their first album when I was thirteen, they were, for me personally, as they undoubtedly were and still are for countless others, a delightfully refreshing musical group that stood in stark relief against a pop culture background featuring increasingly homogenized electronic music.  Their cabaret style that blended so well with a modern rock twist brought back a classic sound, splendidly repackaged in a new, performative manner. Amanda Palmer, the pianist and lead singer of the duo, really knew how to reach for the emotionally aggressive child in you without sounding immaturely angsty and trite.  Surely there were many years to come from the band, featuring not only Palmer but her right hand man and drummer, Brian Viglione. At least that was what I thought. But then the dazzling pair seemed to have completely vanished from the music scene, at least in the form of their mime bedecked act for Dresden Dolls. The albums from their studio stopped pouring out in about 2008 and it seemed, for then at least, that they were both absorbed into side projects that signaled, in my mind, that my beloved punk cabaret duet was over. I would from then on be forced to just repeat the past by resorting to their only three albums when I wanted that brutal honesty Palmer’s lyrics brought out about the world.

Was this the death of that evocative, radical sound that had so defined the beloved duo? It was anyone’s guess at the time.

Needless to say, I lost hope, until I finally had a chance to hear Palmer’s solo work. Without Brian, I thought the feel of the music would have slipped away. The pair had, in my own mind,  been a necessary ingredient in the production of the sound that shook up my younger years so much. But thank god, my fears did not come true and the music was not at all at an end. Palmer’s solo work proved to be something quite different at first with her debut album, Who Killed Amanda Palmer? But it still was gritty and suggestive as ever, with titles such as Leeds United and Astronaut proving that the gal still possessed, and always had, the chops  to make the listener uncomfortable as ever while still sounding like something coming out of a twenties night club.

Palmer’s newest released, Theater is Evil, which first appeared in the beginning of September of this year, gives new insight to the songwriter’s abilities, as she heads forth into even more of an alternative rock sound than her previous work had delved into. The work at the same time still retains that visceral feeling of its proceeding albums, like you just looked too deeply into someone’s thoughts, and can’t ever really eradicate the impression that those thoughts in some way mirror sentiments of your own. Even at her most specific lyrical moments she still has this magical method of wrapping it in a universality of meaning that points out the strengths of her writing ability.

I’m not the killing type
But I would kill to make you feel
I don’t mean kill someone for real
I couldn’t do that, it is wrong
But I can say it in a song

– “The Killing Type”

Theater is Evil was funded by Kickstarter, a website that allows interested parties to help aid a project that needs a financial boost. Palmer’s fan base said yes to more, and the product that came out of their support and Palmer’s genius is worth every bit of the six dollars the album is selling for on Amazon.

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Battle Royale versus The Hunger Games

For those of you who may be aware that a film called Battle Royale was released in Japan several years back,  its hard to miss the accusations that followed Suzanne Collins, author of The Hunger Games, when her book was made into an instant blockbuster hit. The “charges”  several fans of Battle Royale made against Collins was that she copycated the storyline from the controversial earlier film.  Although the two seem disturbingly similar at first glance, it is when a further look is granted to the material of the two films that  a very different set of aesthetic objectives for them comes to light. A deeper survey of a film released  even earlier than both of these movies also suggests that there is nothing new under the sun in terms of the idea that is put forth in the them.

In Battle Royale, the premise, shared by The Hunger Games, is laid down:  Kids of an certain eligible age are selected to fight for the death. But where as The Hunger Games focuses on the dramatic story of a girl fighting for her life in the midst of an unjust system of social values (such as the demeaning of life to the point where such competitions are deemed as acceptable), Battle Royale occupies a position of a story where the plot about the fight for survival is really just a background for satire about teenage angst.  There is no overarching progression of events that necessarily ties all of the characters  together under the banner of one particular hero, such as the role that Katniss plays in The Hunger Games. Although two characters, one male and female, are focused on more than the others, each death in Battle Royale is given some sort of cinematic significance, with their death accompanied by a quote from the deceased character that frames them as a certain archetype of adolescence. Such an emphasis is lacking in The Hunger Games, which is a story with a more typical plot line fitting in with the conventions of the development of the hero as embodied by Katniss. In conclusion, even a brief discussion of the two films makes it very obvious—they share the same foundation, but in no way the same story.

The premise of these two films has been portrayed before, in films such as The Running Man, which displays a society that has deemed it socially acceptable to kill felons in a sort of game show where they are hunted down. One can go back even further to the story of The Most Dangerous Game, and find roots in Richard Connell’s tale that hails as a definite forerunner of the dystopic novels and films of Battle Royale and The Hunger Games.