On the surface, Evelyn Evelyn would appear to be a group intended to shock and awe its audience. With a backing story involving a botched birth, carney living, corrupt religions, and other general baroque/cabaret imagery, Evelyn Evelyn appear tailor made for a particularly theatrical section of the music listening audience. After all, it’s not every day you come across conjoined twins singing songs about their depressing lives as carnival folk, at least not outside of actual carny shows.
Which is perhaps why Evelyn Evelyn quickly reveals itself as a concept too outlandish, too perfect that it could only be tailor made. The brainchild of Amanda Palmer (Dresden Dolls) and Jason Webley, a multi-instrumentalist from Seattle, Evelyn Evelyn does not really live up to its potential as a concept. While the “Tragic Events” tracks are obviously connected through Palmer and Webley narrating the story of the sisters, how the other songs fit into the picture is less clear. Album highlight “Have You Seen My Sister Evelyn?”, for example, frames the sisters’ relationship as though they weren’t conjoined, and one of the Evelyns enjoys a life of sleeping around. It’s a fun song, but there’s little explanation in the narrative for its existence.
The same goes for another album highlight, the country tune “You Only Want Me ‘Cause You Want My Sister”, and the epic closing track “My Space”. So on repeat listens, I decided to forget about most of the album’s supposed backstory and instead focus on the meat. Palmer and Webley have an excellent taste for token cabaret flair, finding themselves running a gamut of sounds from Palmer’s preferred Hot Topic-conjuring pop that the Dresden Dolls have earned a cult following with to Webley’s affinity for sea shanties and diverse arrangements. The two have a natural ability to set a carnival mood, which will help this album satisfy its target audience. However, many of these touchstones are addressed in a workmanlike and somewhat cliché manner that at times renders moments like the end of “Tragic Events Part III” as a comedic rather than purely happy moment.
I appreciate the effort that went into this album, and the artists’ intent comes across well throughout. Unfortunately, when we get down to what’s actually enjoyable here, it’s really just “Have You Seen My Sister Evelyn”, “You Only Want Me…”, and the comedic coda “My Space” (featuring an all-star chorus that runs the gamut of MySpace celebrities, from Margaret Cho to Gerard Way) that have any lasting value. The rest of the music here resides in a niche pocket of the musical universe that requires a little more buying into, and a little less wondering whether its good or bad. Fans of Dresden Dolls and hearing modern artists revive the baroque theater through music will definitely have things to look for and love here, but I think there are plenty of hurdles and warning signs the casual listener should be aware of as well. Palmer and Webley make a darn professional duo, but their concept came out a little undercooked here, with little of the dramatic energy one might expect from an album about conjoined twins.