It makes sense that Who Killed Amanda Palmer, the solo debut by singer-pianist Amanda Palmer of The Dresden Dolls, started small but snowballed into a yearlong multi-studio production with Ben Folds at the helm. Everything Palmer does is a production—particularly The Dresden Dolls' theatrical performances, where she and drummer Brian Viglione perform in whiteface and tear into their songs with dramatic abandon. For her solo album, Palmer planned to collect songs that didn't need drums, record them in her bedroom, and release them, to little fanfare.
Traces of that plan remain on Palmer's quieter moments. "Ampersand" sounds like a fairly typical Dolls ballad in the vein of "Delilah" (from 2006's Yes Virginia), but the string arrangements by renowned composer Paul Buckmaster (The Rolling Stones, Carly Simon, Elton John) quickly distinguish it as something more ambitious. And Palmer is decidedly ambitious: "Guitar Hero" (featuring East Bay Ray of the Dead Kennedys) has layers of sound that cohere into something forceful, while "Leeds United," recorded on a whim in Scotland, has an off-the-cuff rawness balanced by brassy horns. Then there's "Oasis," a jaunty little song about rape and abortion, complete with doo-wop backup vocals. That last one won't surprise Dolls fans, who are used to Palmer's predilection for taboo—actually, nothing on the album will surprise them, as Palmer sticks closely to her established style. Aside from a few tedious moments, that's no reason to complain.