(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Thursday, March 19, 2015

What's cool? Amanda Palmer, "Bigger on the Inside"

A poignant sense of perspective

The haters aren't all wrong about Amanda Palmer. Of course they're suspicious of her near constant attempts to be outrageous and provoke reaction; Palmer herself drives most of the controversy and her innocent surprise at the fallout seems a bit disingenuous. The Dresden Dolls gave her a theatrical platform and, with the help of her fans, she's erected that into a ziggurat of overwrought emotion. While she sometimes plays the martyr, she is certainly no saint.

But -- and this is the key -- as much as she courts indignation, her image is more grounded in her personal truth than any other pop performer I can think of, especially the queens of shock facade, Madonna and Lady Gaga. I believe that most of the time, Palmer knows exactly what kind of response she'll get and she embraces that. But it's also clear that her own expressions of outrage, pain, and childlike joy are truly sincere reflections of her inner life. That's what makes a song like "The Killing Type" so powerful: she's not afraid to face the contradiction of her pacifist front and her sublimated anger. and the juxtaposition gives both sides equal weight.

Palmer's latest piece, "Bigger on the Inside" has a very similar sound to "The Killing Type" and it also crosses her higher ideals against the reality of her feelings. This time, though, instead of fury, the track is grounded in heartbreak. Her voice skips right along the edge of falling apart as she chides herself for her own bitterness and frustration in the face of real pain, like dying friends and abused children. A big part of the impact is that those examples are specifically grounded rather than generalities. It's particularly poignant that Zoƫ Keating plays cello on this piece, which was recorded during her late husband's illness.

The song starts out a bit defiant, with the hook admonishing Palmer's critics that she is "bigger on the inside" and they're "only hating other people's low-res copies," but by the end, she's comforting us and herself that everyone is deeper than their surface looks from outside. A resonant discord of string buzz builds for the final line, but drops away on the last word to punch the resolution. "Bigger on the Inside" is maudlin and a bit melodramatic, but it touched me because it captures an emotional truth.

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