Music

Amanda Palmer Has Created Her Best Work with 'There Will Be No Intermission'

Photo: Kahn and Selesnick / Courtesy of Big Hassle

There Will Be No Intermission is a triumphant return for an uncompromising artist, and it's the best piece of work that Amanda Palmer has produced in her career.

There Will Be No Intermission
Amanda Palmer

Cooking Vinyl

8 March 2019

Amanda Palmer has always demanded our attention and will go to extremes to get it. Case in point: she stands defiantly nude on the cover of her new album There Will Be No Intermission. But with every one of the record's ten primary songs clocking in at over five minutes (two passing the 10-minute mark), she wants even more: she demands our time. Give her the time; pay close attention; it's worth the ride.

There Will Be No Intermission is comprised of those ten songs each separated by a brief instrumental interlude (not to be confused with an intermission) and they show Palmer at the top of her game. She has always been one of our strongest songwriters, going back to Dresden Dolls, but her proclivity to release just about everything she creates in warts-and-all abandon sometimes obscures that fact. Palmer can be great when she's spontaneous, but when she takes her time and really crafts a song, she's damn near incomparable.

On first impression, There Will Be No Intermission is a more subdued and reflective collection of songs that Palmer's previous major release Theatre Is Evil. Her piano and ukulele playing dominates, and the arrangements are more symphonic. Support players add flourish and loudness where needed, but this is not a band album like the previous record. Theatre Is Evil was a big gesture album, an extrovert who enters the room dancing and trailing a feather boa; this album is the introvert in the corner drawing everyone into its world. There remains, too, a carnivalesque element that evokes her Evelyn Evelyn collaboration with Jason Webley.

Palmer is a master at making her personal observations and experiences universal to her broad fan base. In songs like "Good Day", "The Jeep Song", or "Delilah" from her Dresden Dolls recordings or later works like "Ampersand" or "The Bed Song", Palmer exposes her innermost self in a way that allows listeners to insert themselves, to experience pain, memories, or emotions that are personal yet shared. In a very important way, Palmer could be called the patron saint of broken adolescence, as many of her most powerful songs focus upon that most delicate and troubling transition period with its myriad challenges and curses. The festering doubt that seeps into adulthood and continues to whisper poison is one familiar to children of the "greatest" generation (who had their shit together) and to children of the baby boomers (who act like they do). Palmer captures the perpetual imposter syndrome that is adulthood for so many who have experienced trauma during their adolescence.

Palmer captures the intimacy and fear of adolescence on the brilliant "Judy Blume", a personal narrative of self-discovery through the intercession of a great artist who speaks to one's soul at a most important time. Amidst all the trauma of burgeoning sexuality, the intimacy shared with Blume's books provided Palmer with a guide and a psychological shelter. "I don't remember the details of seventh grade," she sings at one point, but can rattle off the major events in the lives of Blume's fictional characters, and those are all the more real for how they shaped her: "All of them lived in my head, quietly whispering: You are not so strange." In many ways, Palmer is a Judy Blume to her fans, connecting to their own interior voices, helping them to find those voices, and reassuring them that they are not alone.

But mastering the queasiness of adolescence does not render Palmer incapable of facing down adulthood's most challenging or controversial elements. "Voicemail for Jill" is that rarest of things in our current public debates: a humane and understanding reflection on the necessity and complexity of making a choice to have an abortion. Palmer mixes compassion with dark humor born of experience (In one promotional video for the album's release she notes that she has in her life experienced an abortion, a birth, and a miscarriage). The song puts the lie to the common misperception that abortion is a psychologically easy decision for anyone or that it does not linger as a loss.

Palmer follows this with "A Mother's Confession", where she takes on the myth of the perfect mother by presenting a long catalog of trivial mistakes familiar to any young parent: turn your back for a moment and the baby falls from the changing table; sleepwalking amidst a day's seemingly endless errands, the baby gets left in the car for five minutes; practically sleep-driving, you run a stop sign. All could turn out bad, of course (that's why we have a 24-hour news cycle to monitor us against our imperfections), but most of us survived our parent's mistakes, and most or our children will survive our own. Any over-tired parent with a sense of humor will feel a temptation to join in with the children's choir that closes the song: "At least the baby didn't die."

It's tempting to take on every song here. They're all noteworthy for assorted reasons. Certainly "Bigger on the Inside" is going to generate strong reactions as Palmer doubles down on her right as an artist to make a plea of compassion for an uncompassionate soul (the Boston marathon bomber), referencing the controversial poem she published in the aftermath of that event. Again, this is part of what makes Palmer a fascinating creative figure. In a musical age where singles are debated in boardrooms and artists employ teams to produce tweets engineered for maximum public acceptance, it's refreshing to have an artist who seems genuinely unafraid to risk failing spectacularly in the service of making honest art.

There Will Be No Intermission is a triumphant return of an uncompromising artist. It is singularly the best piece of work that Palmer has produced in her career.

9
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Books

How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.

Film

From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?

Music

The 50 Best Songs of 2007

Journey back 13 years to a stellar year for Rihanna, M.I.A., Arcade Fire, and Kanye West. From hip-hop to indie rock and everywhere in between, PopMatters picks the best 50 songs of 2007.

Music

'Modern' Is the Pinnacle of Post-Comeback Buzzcocks' Records

Presented as part of the new Buzzcocks' box-set, Sell You Everything, Modern showed a band that wasn't interested in just repeating itself or playing to nostalgia.

Music

​Nearly 50 and Nearly Unplugged: 'ChangesNowBowie' Is a Glimpse Into a Brilliant Mind

Nine tracks, recorded by the BBC in 1996 show David Bowie in a relaxed and playful mood. ChangesNowBowie is a glimpse into a brilliant mind.

Music

Reaching for the Sky: An Interview with Singer-Songwriter Bruce Sudano

How did Bruce Sudano become a superhero? PopMatters has the answer as Sudano celebrates the release of Spirals and reflects on his career from Brooklyn Dreams to Broadway.

Music

Inventions Conjure Mystery and Hope with the Intensely Creative 'Continuous Portrait'

Instrumental duo Matthew Robert Cooper (Eluvium) and Mark T. Smith (Explosions in the Sky) release their first album in five years as Inventions. Continuous Portrait is both sonically thrilling and oddly soothing.

Music

Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch Are 'Live at the Village Vanguard' to Raise Money for Musicians

Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch release a live recording from a 2018 show to raise money for a good cause: other jazz musicians.

Music

Lady Gaga's 'Chromatica' Hides Its True Intentions Behind Dancefloor Exuberance

Lady Gaga's Chromatica is the most lively and consistent record she's made since Born This Way, embracing everything great about her dance-pop early days and giving it a fresh twist.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Street Art As Sprayed Solidarity: Global Corona Graffiti

COVID-19-related street art functions as a vehicle for political critique and social engagement. It offers a form of global solidarity in a time of crisis.

Music

Gretchen Peters Honors Mickey Newbury With "The Sailor" and New Album (premiere + interview)

Gretchen Peters' latest album, The Night You Wrote That Song: The Songs of Mickey Newbury, celebrates one of American songwriting's most underappreciated artists. Hear Peters' new single "The Sailor" as she talks about her latest project.

Music

Okkyung Lee Goes From Classical to Noise on the Stellar 'Yeo-Neun'

Cellist Okkyung Lee walks a fine line between classical and noise on the splendid, minimalist excursion Yeo-Neun.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.