Amanda Palmer – Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under

As the singer/pianist for the cabaret-inspired Boston duo the Dresden Dolls, Amanda Palmer is known for her odd mix of theatrics, musical abilities and lyricism that ranges from whimsical to ominously serious, depending on the song. During her Dresden Dolls hiatus, Palmer released a collection of piano ballads called Who Killed Amanda Palmer in 2008, then, following her split from Roadrunner Records (an unlikely union from the beginning), Amanda Palmer Performs the Popular Hits of Radiohead on Her Magical Ukulele last year. Somehow, she also found time to collaborate with guitarist Jason Webley for their circus-y Evelyn Evelyn project, reunite with Brian Viglione for a Dresden Dolls tour, marry Sandman scribe Neil Gaiman and record a new solo album called Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under.

An ode to New Zealand and Australia (where the album was recorded), Down Under begins with Palmer’s take on the jazz classic “Makin’ Whoopee,” proving that the dirty thoughts the album title initially conjures with “goes down” are likely intentional. The same kind of irreverent humor that Palmer has become known for continues throughout the album, with songs like “Vegemite (The Black Death),” “Doctor Oz” and “We’re Happy Little Vegemites” (an Australian ad jingle) poking good-natured fun to the delight of the live audience at the Sydney Opera House.

While most of the album was recorded live at various Australian and New Zealand performances, featuring just a girl and her piano (or ukulele), Palmer also includes some interesting collaborations (live and in studio) and covers. “Map of Tasmania” is a musical departure from the rest of the album, featuring English electro-house group the Young Punx (though the lyrical content is in keeping with the tongue-in-cheekiness of the other songs, paying homage to Palmer’s personal “land down under”). “Bad Wine and Lemon Cake” is a playful collaboration with Melbourne’s own cabaret duo the Jane Austen Argument, whose Tom Dickins duets with Palmer on vocals. And on “A Formidable Marinade,” Palmer covers a vaudeville-worthy song by Australia’s Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen, with Mikelangelo providing his own ringmaster-like vocals.

Oddly, Palmer seems to be her most serious when in the studio rather than in front of her adoring fans. “In My Mind,” the only track to include Viglione, is a tender look into the future of a woman as she gradually grows older, featuring tambourine, ukulele and piano. “On An Unknown Beach,” originally written and performed by New Zealand’s Peter Jefferies, is an equally introspective song again featuring just Palmer and her piano.

Palmer ends the album with the oft-covered Nick Cave favorite “The Ship Song,” which serves as a bittersweet goodbye to two of Palmer’s favorite lands (and, as evidenced by her pre-song proclamation of, “We have time for one more, then they’re seriously going to kick us out,” it’s clearly the last song of an Australian performance). This closing track, like the rest of the album, also shows that with or without Viglione, Palmer has a magnetic personality and musical range that allows her to tackle subjects both lighthearted and intimate, bringing out the best in those with whom she collaborates or covers along the way.

Amanda Palmer
Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under