Not so much a side-project as an attached-at-the-side-project, Evelyn Evelyn is not only one of the must thinly veiled musical hoaxes in history, but also one of the most interesting and affecting (barring of course Joaquin Phoenix’s foray into hip-hop– that was a hoax, right?). Dresden Dolls’ Amanda Palmer and long-time friend/collaborator Jason Webley bring out the best in each other as siamese-twin sisters Eva and Lynn Neville on this album, finding the perfect outlet to capitalise on the former’s taste for the intelligently macabre and the latter’s hand at carnivalesque folk.
The tone of this album is has two-headed as its stars, exploring both the interior thoughts of the twins as well as the exterior view of them, and this binary is set up immediately. Beginning with Evelyn Evelyn, the day to day concerns of the the sisters are reeled off as they navigate their path along the periphery of a society who see one oddity rather than of two people, ‘Should we be movie stars, can we be millionaires?/ I want to be famous, they’re watching us anyway’. Conversely, second track A Campaign of Shock and Awe is principally narrated by this external gaze. A seasick waltz carries the step-right-up sales pitch of Palmer and Webley, a dizzying call and response which encircles the girls, and the listener, like a drunken vulture as it presents a catalogue of exploitation.
The dress-up opportunity is taken to float, as they sing themselves, “between eras and genres”, from the Vaudevillian shuffle Have You Seen My Sister Evelyn? to the country twang of You Only Want Me ‘Cause You Want My Sister, in both cases masterfully pairing the appropriate subject matter with their chosen mode. This playful spirit is also seen in the gypsy-classical lunacy of Chicken Man and in naive ode to animal husbandry Elephant Elephant, but care is taken to balance whimsy against woe– and whoa is there woe. The inventory of misfortune and abuse extolled by the twins against a haunting score in the three Tragic Events narratives gives J.T Leroy a run for his/her money, and is made all the more disturbing by the disembodied monotone through which its narrators speak.
Palmer and Webley don a number of masks on this record and it works almost perfectly, the only misstep perhaps being My Space, which lovingly lampoons the New Wave Power Ballad; While succeeding comedically, it makes for relatively turgid listening after a record of such energy and accomplished musicianship. The duo find their footing for a redeeming finale of Love Will Tear Us Apart on the ukulele, thankfully, bookending an absorbing tale of oddity and audience with tongue fitfully and firmly in cheek.