As the story goes, what was originally intended to be a mere piano and vocal bedroom recording of material that was deemed too balladic for Dresden Dolls' albums became an epic project by twist of fate. After Ben Folds contacted Amanda Palmer by email to randomly tell her that he was a fan of her music, they made plans to play some shows in Australia, where, upon meeting, the two wry-humored piano bashers found they shared a lot in common. He offered her future use of his Nashville studio, and once she accepted, he put on the producer hat and started taking the once raw songs to new heights with extensive layering. Along with Folds, who played keyboards and percussion himself, East Bay Ray of the Dead Kennedys, Annie Clark of St. Vincent, a horn section, cellist Zoe Keating, and a children's choir were all recruited to help round out the songs. While Folds' collaboration with the more animated half of the Dresden Dolls, Amanda Palmer, isn't quite as intriguing as his team-up with William Shatner on 2004's Has Been, it still comes as a bit of a surprise. Considering the potential of having these two different sides of the same coin (dark piano goth, and peppy piano pop) face off in the same room, it also comes off as a slight disappointment. Now, despite what this might lead you to believe, the disappointment of the album doesn't come from overproduction, and it's not because Who Killed Amanda Palmer is a hugely drastic departure from the established Dresden Dolls formula with Brian Viglione; strangely, even with the added orchestrated bells and whistles, it's actually very similar sounding to their stripped sound as a two-piece. Instead, the problem is that the album is what it is: a disc full of songs that originally didn't make the cut on the band's main albums. Most of these best alternate song ideas were already used up when compiling the track listing for the fantastic Dresden Dolls B-sides compilation, No, Virginia... released earlier the same year. So, what we're looking at here are C-sides, which despite any amount of studio polish and however great the contributions by Folds, don't quite stack up. "Astronaut: A Short History of Nearly Nothing" and "Guitar Hero" are choice tracks, but an overwhelming amount of theatrics and dramatic posturing don't do anything to salvage the exhaustingly ramshackle "Runs in the Family," while "What's the Use of Wond'rin" sounds like Julie Andrews with a music box, and plays like a gag more than a genuine number. Its extreme sappiness and "love your fella" faux-sentimentality are even more cringe-worthy than the lyrics of "Oasis," in which Palmer tells a story about getting drunk, getting raped, getting an STD, and then getting an abortion, without ever getting too concerned because an autographed picture of Oasis just arrived in the mail. This better not be autobiographical.
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AllMusic Review by Jason Lymangrover
feat: Ben Folds
feat: Annie Clark