Amanda Palmer is not one to follow a linear artistic trajectory. Her solo debut, 2008’s Who Killed Amanda Palmer?, was about as straightforward an effort as we have ever gotten post-Dresden Dolls. Since then, listeners have been treated to everything from auditory travelogues (2010’s Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under) to projects like the Grand Theft Orchestra’s Theatre Is Evil, which included a companion art book to boot. Even as a solo artist, Palmer refuses to be, nor do, simply one thing. She continues this pattern of discontinuity with her latest effort, I Can Spin a Rainbow, a collaboration with her childhood hero Edward Ka-Spel of psychedelic group the Legendary Pink Dots.
Palmer has made something of a name for herself with her dark, cheeky, punky humor, last seen on songs like “Oasis” and “Want It Back”. Traces of this characteristic style can scarcely be found on I Can Spin a Rainbow, though, or at least not with the same boisterousness. The wry darkness is still there, to be sure, but it is expressed with a deadpan delivery that changes the effect entirely. Palmer and Ka-Spel deliver their lines in spoken word whispers, their cadences slowed to a crawl, each lyric leaking out like water from a dripping faucet. Spare violin and piano arrangements serve as the elegant but nondescript backdrop for these recitals, which sound like Palmer and Ka-Spel could have recorded them in the dark with flashlights perched menacingly beneath their faces.
This style is acceptable enough on opening number “Pulp Fiction”, which features irreverent and oddly funny lyrics that wouldn’t feel out of place on previous Amanda Palmer efforts. “The room just keeps on spinning as the bad boys play roulette / I lost a shoe, but I keep winning / No contusions, no regret,” she deadpans like a dark nursery rhyme. Surrounded by a cavern of light electronics and dizzy background moans, the song at least serves as an intriguing introduction to the album.
The problem is that Palmer and Ka-Spel do not deviate from this approach in the slightest for the remainder of the album. What at first seems a tolerable novelty quickly becomes insufferable. The duo continues with their ghost story theatricalities for all — all — of the album’s 51 minutes, not including the two vinyl-only bonus tracks. Three of the songs drag on for longer than seven minutes, as though trying to be as punishing as possible. As each new piece unfurls, revealing yet more of the same hushed, arduous whispering, its style becomes more laughable, its dark menace more a farce. Slight variations in the musical backdrop — music box chimes on “The Clock at the Back of the Cage”, synthesizers on “The Shock of Kontakt” and “Rainbow’s End” — do little to make up for the album’s baffling indulgences.
Recorded in Imogen Heap’s home studio in Essex, at least one can surmise that Palmer and Ka-Spel probably had a blast making I Can Spin a Rainbow. The album is convincing as a collaboration between friends, the obvious downside being that it also sounds like an inside joke, an indulgence on a whim that few others share or can access. The record is a slow parade of gothic vaudeville, like a less-convincing Emilie Autumn album without the thrill of the accompanying subculture. With so many frustrating and inscrutable elements, it is unsurprising that the project never takes off.