“Real art has the capacity to make us nervous.” —Susan Sontag
Evelyn Evelyn is the creation of Amanda Palmer (of the Dresden Dolls and lately a successful solo artist) and musician Jason Webley. Palmer and Webley have built a layered piece of art rather than simply a collaborative musical effort or side project. It includes an intricate back story in addition to its musical content: Evelyn Evelyn are conjoined twins, each one named Evelyn Neville (since neither they nor anyone else could keep straight their given names “Eva” and “Lyn”) who were purportedly discovered via MySpace by Palmer and Webley. Between them they have three legs, two arms, two hearts, three lungs, and a single liver. Born in 1985, there is little information known about the twins until 1996, when they appeared at Dillard and Fullerton's Traveling Circus. In 2007, Palmer and Webley “made contact” with Evelyn and Evelyn and encouraged them to make a studio record.
I first heard about this project at an Amanda Palmer show and thought it was creative, interesting, and different. However, the feminist blogosphere went supernova with rage after the Evelyn Evelyn project became more widely known, claiming Palmer engaged in “crip drag,” and objecting to the idea that conjoined twins “need help” from two able-bodied people. To complicate matters more, the twins' background (as stated on the record) involves a history of sexual exploitation and abuse, which was further fuel for feminist media laser-sights. Afterward, Palmer seemed not to be able to do anything right in the eyes of Internet feminism, and a quick Google search will reveal headlines like “3 Reasons We're Over Amanda Palmer,” “Amanda Palmer Behaves Like An Asshole Part 37,” and “How Amanda Palmer Lost a Fan or, My Own Private Backlash.” (Interestingly, Jason Webley seemed largely spared from the backlash for a project he helped create.)
As for the music itself, the twelve songs on Evelyn Evelyn are catchy, almost jingle-like tunes that rely heavily on piano, accordion, ukulele, and violin, and Palmer and Webley harmonize wonderfully. “The Tragic Events of September” parts one, two, and three are spoken word over a spooky piano background in which the twins tell of their woe-filled life while speaking of themselves in the third person. Each one is punctuated with sound effects and lines spoken by the “characters” in the song. Other songs on the record, including “Sandy Fishnets,” “Elephant Elephant,” and “Chicken Man,” further detail events in the twins' lives.
“My Space,” which is a tribute to the social networking site on which the twins were supposedly discovered, was heralded as the singing debut of Frances Bean Cobain; her voice is layered over many other guest singers, however, and is impossible to distinguish. This song sounds like a parody of every bombastic '80s power ballad in memory, and includes drums and a lengthy guitar solo. The album ends with a very pretty ukulele cover of Joy Division's “Love Will Tear Us Apart.”
This record is of interest to fans of show tunes, noir, cabaret, and Tin Pan Alley. The theatricality and operatic nature of the music and storyline will appeal to ex-drama students, and current fans of Amanda Palmer and Jason Webley will appreciate the interesting tangent in their respective current careers that still maintains the level of cleverness and originality fans have come to expect from each.