Amanda Palmer’s first album in seven years wields the title There Will Be No Intermission—and she’s not kidding. A largely bleak, unflinchingly honest and relentless cycle, the album can prove daunting and difficult to infiltrate, as she delves into highly personal songs on such topics as cancer and abortion.
But set aside the time and space to immerse yourself in opening song “The Ride,” a 10-minute reflection on life in which Palmer muses on sitting beside you, enjoying the chance to scream or cry together. “The alternative’s nothingness,” she sings, “might as well give it a try.” When it’s over, you might even catch your breath, realizing the payoff from patiently submitting to Palmer’s emotional roller coaster.
“This album is not a light snack,” the Lexington native says from the upstate New York home she shares with writer/husband Neil Gaiman and their son, packing for a tour that hits the Orpheum Theatre on April 19. “It’s a pretty concentrated offering.”
She gained confidence in the material by performing it for audiences large and small in recent years, Palmer says, noting, “I knew these songs made people cry.” She released some of them for her 14,000-plus supporters on the crowdfunding platform Patreon. “What I didn’t anticipate is what having a bunch of patrons would do to my artwork, and how they would dial up my bravery,” she says. “It was almost inebriating relief in not having to hustle to sell my shit anymore.”
Palmer fought record labels since she formed the punk-cabaret duo the Dresden Dolls in 2000 with Brian Viglione and famously funded her 2012 album, Theatre Is Evil, through Kickstarter. But she’s never indulged her lyrical impulses as deeply as on There Will Be No Intermission, working again with St. Vincent producer John Congleton and favoring the minimalist palette of her piano or ukulele.
“John Congleton single-handedly created the environment in which I could let loose those feelings,” Palmer says. She recorded some tracks in a single take, including lyrical cascades “Bigger on the Inside” (about being beaten down by critics while friends battled cancer) and “A Mother’s Confession,” an exhaustive travelogue of guilt-riddled mishaps, resolving with the lyric: “At least the baby didn’t die.”
She writes of a French boy raped by his father (“A composite on purpose because I didn’t want to out any of my fans”) and her gay, detached grandfather, whose ring she stole after he died. “I try to be incredibly respectful of everyone else’s stories,” Palmer says. “Yet I will harvest myself to the very bowels.”
On “Voicemail for Jill,” she tackles a subject that she has tried to address before: abortion. It’s framed as one woman consoling another about that lonely decision. But Palmer, who had three abortions and a miscarriage, acknowledges that it’s “probably more parts me than anybody else.”
She attributes the urgency of doing that song to the politics of Trump’s America. “I spent a long time trying to dodge the bullet of being labeled a feminist,” Palmer says. “I wanted to be discussed and considered as an artist way more than as a feminist. That’s no longer true. I have surpassed all cages. I don’t give a fuck what people call me. I’m going to do the work that I feel is important.”
Palmer has long championed female nudity as art, and that hasn’t changed at age 42. To complement There Will Be No Intermission, she produced a 90-page book (available on tour in softcover) with autobiographical essays and portrait photography, some of it nude. And on the album cover, Palmer stands naked against an ominous sunset, brandishing a sword. You won’t see it on Facebook or Instagram, but fans have posted their own representations. “It has galvanized people into a mode of rebellious creativity,” Palmer says. “We can always move faster than the speed of the censors and the Puritans.”
In concert, she’ll speak frankly about the songs, inspired by seeing Springsteen on Broadway and similarly revealing performances by Nick Cave and comedian Hannah Gadsby. “It’s a very funny show,” Palmer says. “It would have to be if it’s going to get that dark.” Unlike her past tours, the three-hour affair also offers an ironic twist: There will be an intermission. ◆
Amanda Palmer plays the Orpheum Theatre on April 19.
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