The last time I posted on here it was to question people’s thoughts on crowdfunding artistic projects. Here
This question was prompted by two of my favorite artists who were simultaneously crowdfunding their new albums, Amanda Palmer and Ben Folds Five. Amanda used Kickstarter, Ben Folds Five used Pledge Music.
One of the points I made in my previous post was that you are essentially buying a product sight unseen (and actually at the funding stage, product non-existant…) – so its a gamble, but possibly not too much of a gamble when you consider the strong back catalog that both Amanda Palmer and Ben Folds Five have.
Well, this week both the albums dropped, so I thought I’d do a review of them to answer the question as to whether it was worth it – do I feel I got my money’s worth in the end?
Amanda hasn’t released a polished, new material album since 2008’s “Who Killed Amanda Palmer” – her first solo album away from the Dresden Dolls. The main difference between WKAP and Theatre is Evil is the musical direction that Amanda is taking. While WKAP still had quite a Dresden Dolls sound, Theatre Is Evil is much more of a departure from this. I think the main reason for this step change is that this time Amanda has recorded with a band rather than session musicians – clearly the bouncing of ideas and contributions from the other members of the Grand Theft Orchestra has helped yield wildly different and exciting ideas in the studio. The 80’s New Wave influences are strong with lots of Depeche Mode, Cars and The Cure sounds in the musical stylings – especially in the upbeat numbers like ‘Do It With a Rockstar‘ , ‘The Killing Type‘ and ‘Want It Back‘ – its instant 80’s dance hits! As always Amanda’s strongest skill for me is her uncanny ability to capture imagery and imagination with her beautifully crafted lyrics – ‘The Bed Song’ is a sweet, sad tear-jerker as is ‘Trout Heart Replica’ . As with every one of my favourite albums there are songs that I’m not crazy about just yet – but based on my previous experiences these albums I know that usually such songs tend to unravel in front of me and take a hold before becoming songs I love, so a few more listens and I know I’ll be completely won over.
If you are interested in getting the album click the linked album name above, Amanda has released this on a ‘pay what you feel’ basis, so if you want your music free you can do that (but really, don’t be an asshole – throw a busker a few dollars to say thanks for the art!).
Also, keep an eye out for tour dates – Amanda on recording is good, but when she’s live she’s in a whole other stratosphere – one of the best nights out you can have.
Ben Folds Five haven’t had a new album in 13 years. It’s been a LONG wait. Ben Folds did a lot of solo recording in between (including the University A Cappella! which was great), and producing albums for other artists including ‘Who Killed Amanda Palmer’. The other guys presumably did things too – I didn’t keep up with their activities so much…!
So, that being said – its exciting to hold a new Ben Folds Five album in my hands (metaphorically speaking of course – everything bits and bytes these days). And its good. Like finding an old loved comfy jumper in the back of your wardrobe – you put it on and its that same old familiar fit and feeling. The album is not so different to the albums from the late 90s/early 2000’s. The production is slicker, there are more lush strings than previous offerings, but fundamentally it’s all about Ben’s sweet vocals, impressive piano skills, some heavily distorted bass-lines and nice harmonies. I’m not sure there is anything on there that hits the highs of ‘Army’ or ‘Underground’ or “One Angry Dwarf…’ for me, although the Pledge Music teaser track from the album ‘Do It Anyway‘ is pretty good with its faux-western feel. I like the 10CC sound of ‘Sky High’ and I’m still not convinced that ‘On Being Frank’ is not a cover of another song – its so familiar sounding. I guess that’s the mark of a well written song huh?
Overall its a good album – this and reading in a sunny spot with a coffee in hand would make for a pretty spectacular Sunday afternoon. Its not ground-breaking, its not huge musical evolutions, but its familiar, well made and sweet – and sometimes that’s all you want.
So was it all worth it? Sending chunks of money off to random artists in the faith of new good material to come?
Yes. Absolutely. These artists have given me two new albums worth of high-quality work. Better still, they didn’t have to jump through record company hoops, they didn’t lose a chunk of money to some dude who just makes life hard for them. They were able to do what they do best and still make a living. This is exactly the desired outcome and yes, it was all worth it.
Plus, in addition to these new digital albums, I get to look forward to 2 CD’s, a t-shirt and an art book arriving in the post over the next couple of weeks. Which is also pretty sweet. Getting parcels in the post is awesome.