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Evelyn Evelyn

Evelyn Evelyn

Rating: 2.5/5.0

Label: Eleven

Evelyn Evelyn have been creating their own buzz for a while now. The brainchild of Amanda Palmer and Jason Webley has been marketed as the musical project of conjoined twins, Evelyn Evelyn Neville. The story states that the twins (who prefer to go by one name instead of their individual given names, “Eva” and “Lyn”) reached out to Palmer and Webley via MySpace. The two musicians helped the twins produce their album, with the twins drawing their musical inspirations from their sordid background of abuse and time spent as circus performers. When it became apparent from singles and video clips that the twins are actually Palmer and Webley themselves, all blog hell broke loose. The project was labeled by the Disabled Feminists blog as ableist, and gullible Palmer fans felt duped.

After spending some time with Evelyn Evelyn, I can confidently say that the album is not tainted by a sense of ableist privilege. It’s more of a weird piece of art than an album, and the story of the twins is elaborate enough to exist on its own rather than as stereotype of the disabled. Evelyn Evelyn is, however, tainted by an abundance of puns. The album takes the line between clever and groan-worthy and rides it like a huge, flamboyant elephant.

The self-titled opening track plays very similar to Palmer’s previous work with the Dresden Dolls: there’s slowly building toy piano, back-and-forth vocals and an eventual instrumental crescendo. It’s a strong track exploring the hopes and struggles of a conjoined relationship, and it’s one of the more straight-faced songs on the album. The next track, “A Campaign of Shock and Awe,” throws the album into its rollicking carny vibe. Delightfully meta, Palmer and Webley riff on the similarities between an album promotion and a circus freak ringmaster entertaining excited guests. Here is where we’re warned: “Have you heard the new disc by the Evelyn sisters?/ Famously floating with grace between eras and genres/ They sing timeless new songs rife with double entendres.”

Both Palmer and Webley have a theatrical background (they met in their street performer days), and neither are known for their subtlety. Some of the jokes are cute. The ragtime cheekiness of “Have You Seen My Sister Evelyn?” is catchy and cute, smiling at the idea of losing track of someone (which couldn’t happen because the twins are attached, get it?). Clever little details are sprinkled everywhere: Countless puns involving the number 11, the fact that the girls befriend and perform with conjoined elephants, activist groups with the acronyms SPLIT and FASSEN. All of these jokes and nudges (some more serious than others), combined with the album’s three theatrical monologues chronicling the girls’ stories, can be exhausting at times. By the time we get to the country-tinged “You Only Want Me ‘Cause You Want My Sister,” the cleverness is a little old.

The puns also compromise the premise a little bit. One of the criticisms from the disability awareness folks is that Palmer and Webley have created a very naive voice for the twins. Considering the story and background created for these characters, it’s probably understandable to give them a timid persona. However, the tracks have so many knowing jabs, that it’s hard to take the narrative seriously. It’s also a little hard to believe that girls who are simply longing for friends and a sense of belonging would make an album that can be so experimental at times.

The genre-jumping album takes the twins from the child porn ring, to the circus, to simple, lonely work in a motel, where the girls find salvation… on MySpace. The track that wraps up the narrative, “My Space,” is an ’80s-styled power ballad exploring the win-win situation of connecting with others while hiding behind the anonymity allowed on the Internet. It is cheesy, surprisingly insightful and after a few listens, you hate yourself for liking it. The track features easily the worst puns on the album: “When you’re looking for a friendly face/ Book a ticket to another place,” is the only one I will reproduce here. The track features contributions from a number of names including Tegan and Sara, “Weird Al” Yankovic and Frances Bean Cobain. However, their vocals are mixed to a point where they are indistinguishable – the point here is to show that the twins have finally found musical success, as well as acceptance. While this is all happy and good, it’s an ending so light-hearted that it almost seems inappropriate, considering the darkness of some previous parts of the album.

Evelyn Evelyn, while certainly interesting, is not for everyone. Folks who are already fans of Palmer and Webley will no doubt eat it up. However, the dramatic and serious parts involved with the narrative never fully mesh with the catchier (and frankly, more likable) tracks. It’s easiest to listen to Evelyn Evelyn once or twice, and then set it aside in favor of something a little more cohesive and a little less indulgent. Despite its most elaborate efforts, it’s hard to stick with this one.

by Melissa Muenz
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