Under Review: Evelyn Evelyn – Evelyn Evelyn

As much as I love the style and theatricality of it, I have yet to find that gem of modern cabaret.  Sure, the World/Inferno Friendship Society has some neat stuff and Man Man often venture into a lumbering waltz, the real would-be heroes of cabaret are The Dresden Dolls.  Or should I say ‘were,’ since Amanda Palmer and Brian Viglione have pretty much gone their own ways.  It’s kinda just as well, really, because for as many of The Dresden Dolls’ songs that were playful and dramatic (and thus, would fit right in with, say, The Threepenny Opera), they had just as many dull or dragging moments.  Palmer’s solo debut, Who Killed Amanda Palmer?, paired her with Ben Folds, who helped her explore her piano-pop (read: totally non-cabaret) side.  Now that Palmer is done with that album’s requisite tour, she’s teamed with Seattle-based busker and bandleader Jason Webley to create her latest project, Evelyn Evelyn.  On the surface, this seems like it could be Palmer’s grand return to theatrical cabaret pop, as the story of a conjoined twin sister act being shuttled around from sideshow to sideshow is perfectly suited for unsettling lyrics and showstopping numbers.  Instead, Evelyn Evelyn is a choppy, uneven musical theater piece whose numerous musical standouts are crushed beneath the weight of an overwrought storyline.

Don’t think that the story isn’t a clever one.  It certainly is, evoking The ResidentsGod In Three Persons with its tale of innocent twins being taken advantage of by manipulative managers.  Most of the songs are told from the perspective of either “Eve” or “Lyn,” usually with one fearing over the safety of the other.  “Have You Seen My Sister Evelyn?” is a jaunty, piano-led rag, and “Elephant Elephant” is a heart-warming ode to the sisters’ pet, a pair of conjoined elephants.  The handful of standouts like those two and the dark “You Only Want Me ‘Cause You Want My Sister” (in which one sister apparently severs herself from the other) are dampened by the overabundance of spoken word pieces.  The three-part story, “The Tragic Events Of September,” spin an elaborate, overly-detailed yarn about the twins, which wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t take up a full 20 minutes of the album’s running time.  Worse yet is the monotonous delivery with which Palmer and Webley tell this tale.  They may have been going for the detached nonchalance of John Cale’s “The Gift,” but after a while, their words just become uninteresting sounds.  Though the overall story is cute, it’s not presented in an engaging enough way to keep the album interesting.  Aside from the spoken pieces, a few songs (“Chicken Man,” “My Space”) try too hard to be funny and end up being annoying and grating.   With a closing (and unnecessary) cover of “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” Evelyn Evelyn proves that good intentions aren’t enough to create the definitive record of modern cabaret that this album should’ve (and, perhaps, could’ve) been.

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~ by E. on April 12, 2010.

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