Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under
Hello and welcome to the new-look Australia By Song! Big thanks to Miss Megs for doing a damn fine job with the artwork and layout. This is the first installment of what will hopefully become many blog posts promoting the great music out there that pays tribute to our country.
Here at Australia By Song HQ, I get a little bit excited whenever I hear about a newly released song that namechecks a location around our fine land, especially if the recording artist is not local to our shores. So it’s with great pleasure that I write today about Bostonian singer/songwriter Amanda Palmer, who has succeeded in not only releasing a track named after the country itself, but a whole album dedicated to the land Down Under, not to mention our Kiwi friends across the Tasman as well.
It was 2004 when I first came across Amanda’s work, as part of her punk cabaret duo alongside Brian Viglione, the Dresden Dolls. I had only just begun listening to Triple J, and I specifically remember Coin-Operated Boy as being the first song that stood out to me on this newfound non-commercial radio station. I could only describe it as being eccentric – completely different to any other song I’d heard before – and it quickly cemented itself as one of my favourite tunes of the year. I’ve kept a slight interest in Amanda’s career ever since then, but it wasn’t until the release of Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under back in January of this year that I began to fully appreciate her incomparable musical talent.
The majority of the tracks that appear on her aptly-entitled second solo LP were recorded live at the Sydney Opera House in 2010, many featuring special guests and hilarious on-stage banter. On more than one occasion this banter pertains to her morbid dislike of Vegemite (aka “The Black Death”) – and there’s even an awesome impromptu audience singalong of the Happy Little Vegemite song!
A couple of studio recordings make for an interesting and upbeat break between her concert performances, namely the first single Map Of Tasmania, featuring British electronic act the Young Punx. You’ll understand the innuendo behind the title if you’re an Aussie, but who better than Amanda Palmer to educate the rest of world about said colloquialism, thanks to her true kaleidoscopic and risque style:
The gorgeous heartfelt tribute to Australia appears early on in the album, and upon hearing it I am left with the impression that foreigners to our terrain really do think of us as an alluring island on the other side of the world, a visit of which offers the opportunity to break out of your shell and discover the person you wish you could be back in your homeland. Or, perhaps the person somebody else wishes you could be:
I could tiptoe on a tightrope made of fear and looking down
See all the people, do they see me, I can wave or I could carry
All the dishes that they gave me that are keeping me steady
Or I could go to Australia
And carry a bowie knife
And wear my hair like Hepburn parted on the side
Equally as beautiful, but doubly as haunting, is Amanda’s studio recording of a song written by Kiwi musician Peter Jefferies, On An Unknown Beach. Far from the joviality of most of the other tracks that comprise the LP, this is a song about a lone and melancholy man who finds himself on a secluded beach somewhere in New Zealand, contemplating what he sees (and doesn’t see) around him. You can read more about the story behind the song at Amanda’s blog, and I highly recommend watching her video clip, which was admittedly filmed on a beach in Texas but is meant to signify the New Zealand shoreline mentioned in the song:
Back to the fun & games of her usual buoyant self, and still on the Kiwi theme, it’s hard to go past the solo acoustic ukelele rendition of her disparagingly cute testimonial to all things Wellington. Before she begins the song, she states “it was written as a challenge because I had just written Map Of Tasmania, which is a great song, but someone from New Zealand was like ‘where’s our fucking song?’ ” Considering she only had 20 minutes to pen the lyrics, and that she was experiencing… err.. women’s problems at the time, you can only imagine the outcome!
Other highlights of the album include the burlesque & carnivorous Formidable Marinade (featuring Mikelangelo and Lance Horne), a curious enquiry as to whether Doctor Oz and his Australian medical ways will assist in restoring good health, and a superb encore of Nick Cave’s classic The Ship Song:
Altogether, I vote we should adopt Amanda as one of our own, and I encourage you to check out the album if you haven’t done so already. You can find the CD in all good record stores, but you can actually purchase a download of the WHOLE ALBUM at her very own website for as little as US $0.69! Although, it’s worth a lot more than that.
The only thing I regret throughout this whole process of discovering the true genius behind the voice is that I missed her Australia Day Opera House show earlier this year. Next time she Goes Down Under, I will be there for sure.
1. Makin’ Whoopee