Amanda Palmer’s new album, There Will Be No Intermission, is not a collection of generic, hypothetical songs about vague, universal themes. It does not strive to cast the widest sociopolitical net for the sake of maximizing sales. It is not a light, blandly cheerful affair.
None of that is a bad thing.
Today’s world is not a light, blandly cheerful place. Pop music has largely responded to this reality with broad marketing to pretend like everything still well and good. Refusing to expose people to other viewpoints and experiences in an empathetic way opened the door for the polarized nature of modern society. There Will Be No Intermission is, at its core, a deeply personal album. Across its 10 songs, Palmer does sing about love, albeit in songs called “Machete,” but also darker topics like the deaths of close friends, as she does in “Bigger on the Inside.”
The album even goes so far as to include a song, “Voicemail for Jill,” about abortion—which has become a hot topic again leading up to the album’s release. The timing does reinforce the value of music about controversial subjects. While political debates can go so far as to reduce the women involved to mere irresponsible hosts, it’s refreshing and necessary to get a personal look at the side too often ignored, though the rarity of hearing a woman’s perspective treated with such sensitivity and compassion is depressing.
While the album’s 10 interludes are symphonic in nature, the 10 songs are instrumentally sparse. It’s the norm, rather than the exception, for a song to be Palmer’s vocals accompanied only by a piano or ukulele. For example, unless it’s mixed almost entirely out on others, only one song seems to include percussion. Think of the archetypal piano bar—a woman, alone, sitting at a piano, singing and playing—and you’re pretty close.
But this is also to its credit, as a wall of sound would only distract from the words, which are clearly the focus. Palmer’s ability to break songs down to only their most essential elements is a skill most musicians lack.
If there’s any complaint to be made, it’s that the album can, over its length, be a bit too weighty. While the songs and the subject matter are essential and have been missing from the American mainstream for too long, it’s also true that there’s only so much the human psyche can take at once.
Art can and should make people uncomfortable, as this album certainly does, but that doesn’t preclude occasionally taking its foot off the listener’s proverbial throat. Name of the album aside, a thematic intermission would give the audience a chance to breathe and to process what they just heard.
That said, it’s a complaint that can be solved by pausing the album, so it’s far from a dealbreaker. On the contrary, the album should be required listening. Even—even especially—if it pokes at those who don’t agree with its messages, There Will Be No Intermission does a fantastic job of opening one’s eyes to experiences otherwise unheard. If providing a chance to walk in someone else’s shoes is essential to true art, this album is art in its highest form.
Follow editor Daniel J. Willis at Twitter.com/BayAreaData.