Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Opening A Door To More of The Same (Sort Of): Evanescence’s The Open Door

The Good: Excellent voice, Defined sense of musical niche, Generally good lyrics
The Bad: Nothing terribly new, Holistic view of the album is rather average
The Basics: While solid in and of itself, The Open Door illustrates little real growth for Evanescence, though it is arguably a better album than Fallen.

It is a rare thing that I will go back to one of my prior reviews and reread it before reviewing something new. In some cases, I suppose this leads to an inconsistency in the way I rate things. For example, I'm not truly sure The White Stripes's album Get Behind Me Satan (reviewed here!) actually is better than Elephant (though I know it's chic to think that), but looking through my reviews, it seems that's how I rated them at the time. I know I have Elephant (reviewed here!) on my shelf and not Get Behind Me Satan and I've not had any particular compulsion to go out and buy the latter. I did, however, feel compelled to go back and reread my review of Fallen by Evanescence before reviewing their latest work, The Open Door.

I reread my review of Fallen because in listening to The Open Door, an experience I was eager for having heard "Call Me When You're Sober" at least fifty times on the radio and loving it every time, I felt that this album was something I had heard before. Rereading my review for Fallen, I found many of my critiques of that album held, save that the lyrics seem better on The Open Door and the musical accompaniment to Amy Lee was more consistently heavy rock with less Goth pretense.

I think I would be happy working for a general magazine that received advanced copies of media and rating them. I could see me in an editorial room betting on artists, albums, movies, political movements. I think I'd enjoy it, though I might consistently lose my paycheck; I've been betting on open revolution in the United States for years now and I'm continually amazed at the complacency of the citizenry (a populace unphased by a government that is spying on it baffles me). That said, given that I haven't listened to the radio much lately, I'd bet Evanescence's next single off The Open Door would be "Lithium." If not, it ought to be.

"Call Me When You're Sober" continues a trend of Evanescence songs that showcases Amy Lee's strong vocals with a musical backing that is heavy metal. There, I said it. "Going Under," the radio edit of "My Immortal," the number one "Bring Me To Life," and "Call Me When You're Sober" all have guitars heavy enough to be called heavy metal; at least the type of popular heavy metal reminiscent of Metallica's "Enter Sandman." That's my frame of reference; I'm not much of a metal fan, but I've finally hit the nail on the head. Evanescence is just a metal band with a female lead singer.

And a piano. Damn, I forgot about that.

Okay, maybe Evanescence isn't easy to classify outside quasi-metal pop-rock. Despite the preponderance of dark lyrics ("death"/"dying" appears on four songs - five in the abstract with "Cloud Nine" - "dark" or "darkness" is a lyric in seven of the thirteen tracks and other cheerful words include: "drown," "loneliness," "shame," "screaming," "emptiness," etc.), Evanescence abandons the Goth-starkness of Fallen in favor of the airplay-familiar sound of the band. So, for example, on Fallen, "My Immortal" is completely powered by the vocals of Amy Lee and her piano, while the radio version is mucked up in the last stanza with the rest of the band blaring in on their guitars. On The Open Door, all of the tracks are the full band, none are like the Fallen version of "My Immortal," save the final track, "Good Enough," which works well to close out the album.

And that's the album's greatest strength and weakness. The group seems less like it is trying to straddle two niches and instead feels like it has picked what it wants to be. It abandons the stark Goth-pop, Hot Topics poser culture in favor of the new metal, tattoos and body piercing "we're all different, but in the same way" fringe of pop culture. And now that the band has its direction, the problem is that it's nothing new. Evanescence has settled into its sound, but playing Fallen back to back with The Open Door one feels they have simply been listening to a continual experience, as opposed to the next step in a band's evolution. My favorite example of this phenomenon is Everclear; their songs all sound generally the same, but it's a cool sound, so we tend to forgive them, but when one listens to their albums, that weakness is highlighted. Evanescence is the voice of dark pop-rock, metal in the mainstream.

What does this mean to you, the listener?

If you like "Call Me When You're Sober," you're likely to enjoy The Open Door. Thematically, this is a fairly homogenous album. It's a solid listening experience in and of itself. But for those who fell in love with Evanescence via Fallen, this is merely more of the same. The lyrics are generally dark and pensive, like Lee's sad "Like You," which opens "Stay low / Soft, dark, and dreamless / far beneath my nightmares / and loneliness / I hate me / For breathing without you . . ."

And perhaps that makes for a better album; I keep finding a new track running through my mind, which is rare for an album that I feel repeats the same sound as a prior album. My recommendation is based largely on the idea that Amy Lee's vocals continue to impress me and her lyrics (she wrote or co-wrote all thirteen tracks) are poetic and good. This is an album that would probably grow on me.

So, this was one of my more fragmented reviews and there's a simple explanation for that; The Open Door is better than a lot of music out there, "Call Me When You're Sober" is certainly the best song I hear on the pop-rock stations these days. But I recognize that Evanescence is not truly growing on this album, merely accepting the niche they are filling more completely. But even as I recognize that, the track changes and I find myself engaged by the next song and the next. Maybe this is what happened to me when I listened to "Get Behind Me Satan" by the White Stripes . . .

Damn. Maybe, despite not growing, The Open Door is a better album than Fallen simply because Evanescence seems less conflicted about what kind of music they want to make. Either way, the difficult task of ending the review is complicated by my usual form. Here I usually pick the best and worst tracks. "Weight of the World," the third track, continues to underimpress me after ten listens, but picking the best track is hard. So, for a change, I won't; Evanescence might not be growing with The Open Door, but I will! To that end, all I will say about a best track is that while "Call Me When You're Sober" is a phenomenal song, I don't believe it is the best track on The Open Door.

For other intriguing female-driven bands, be sure to visit my reviews of:
Two Suns - Bat For Lashes
Tear The World Down - We Are The Fallen
Eveningland - Hem


For other music reviews, be sure to visit my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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