At first, listening to Amanda Palmer’s Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under feels like listening to an inside joke confined to national boarders. Why would an American singer-songwriter with a British author husband release an Australian themed album? As it turns out, Palmer’s something of a cult figure Down Under, so an album stuffed with songs like “Australia”, “Vegemite”, “New Zealand”, and a Vegemite jingle and features from Australian artists makes sense.
Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under is fairly confusing if you look at it as an album (as the promo material suggests) because it’s pretty schizophrenic. Of 12 songs, we have, oh Lord…9 live tracks, 5 covers/features, 3 studio tracks, and 5 originals, all tossed in an order without any rhyme or reason. But, as with everything carrying the Amanda Palmer brand, there’s a sense of fun and “because I can”.
That “because I can” mentality has made Palmer polarizing as a performer. There are people who see things like songs about pubic hair freedom and selling your album for 69 cents and think it’s hysterical, and then there are those who roll their eyes at the whole thing. And as you travel down under, odds are you’ll find both in Amanda Palmer…
The album opens like just about every live album ever: the crowd cheers, Palmer is announced, and we begin with “Makin’ Whoopie”, a cabaret standard. Between “Makin’ Whoopie” and the Palmer-penned second song “Australia”, …Goes Down Under has a kind of lukewarm cabaret-style start. It’s not until the hilarious “Vegemite (The Black Death)” that the ball really gets rolling, and the capital C Catchy “Map of Tasmania” (the aforementioned pubic hair anthem) starts off a pair of strong studio tracks (the other being nicely written “In My Mind”, featuring the other half the Dresden Dolls, Brian Viglione).
The gorgeous “Bad Wine and Lemon Cake”, written by and performed with The Jane Austen Argument, keeps up the album’s tendency to jump emotions. Starting with “Vegemite”, we go from hilarious to empowered to super sad, and then back to hilarious with “New Zealand”, which captures both sides of Palmer’s polarizing personality. The song itself is pretty funny, but the pre and post song banter (which in “New Zealand”‘s case goes on for a minute and a half) is totally lost on the listener by virtue of us not being there.
That problem kind of haunts some of the other live songs, but none so much as “A Formideable Marinade” (sung with Mikelangelo and Lance Horne, Mikelangelo wrote the song). It’s an old-Broadway sounding. ok song on its own, but without the visual aspect of the performance, it doesn’t hold up as well.
But thankfully other songs do. “On an Unknown Beach” is delightfully pretty, and the insanely theatric “Doctor Oz” is one of the most enjoyable songs on the album. And Palmer’s version of Nick Cave’s “The Ship Song” is in ship shape itself.
Overall, Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under is fun enough. It’s business as usual as far as Palmer releases go; silly, campy, heartbreaking, and unconventionally sexual. As an album, it’s frustratingly conflicted; but Amanda Palmer wouldn’t want it another way. Three stars.
tl;dr: Good fun, and dirt cheap. 3/5.