Review Summary: A surprising album, Evanescence’s self-titled shows maturity and ends up being more engaging than previous records by a huge margin, but something is missing.“Everyone knows our sound but that's just a foundation and we've danced on top of that! It's still very heavy and dark but we we're having fun with it."
Evanescence took the scene by storm back in 2003 with their goth-rock/nu-metal entry album Fallen
. Suddenly their songs were everywhere and received gargantuan amounts of commercial success, being marketed in film (Daredevil), television (Moonlight), and reaching top ten charts in countries all around the world. Within the same year they were also afforded 5 Grammy nominations - two of which were eventually won. Their mark was left and their presence was known: a group whose lead star’s extravagantly done-up dark image appealed to pseudo-goths and nu-metal fans everywhere. Here’s the thing though: for someone feeling nostalgic, Fallen
is an album to put on to hearken back to earlier days -- it’s enjoyable in small doses and catchy; however, without sentimentality attached it can be very grating and come off as amateurish and sickeningly tailored for radio play. The elementary - although hooky and mostly inoffensive - tracks like the rap-rock “Bring Me to Life” and nu-metal crowd pleaser “Going Under” were fun, but could obviously be improved upon. Sadly, the band’s offhanded follow-up, The Open Door
, did almost nothing to expand on the formula found on Fallen
, but was still loved by many. The overflowing cheesiness and refusal to evolve musically and lyrically was frustrating given Amy Lee’s obvious vocal prowess, but it’s also more of what their fans wanted: short songs with unabashedly infectious choruses. Five years later and here we have their self-titled album, a record that - unlike its loosely tethered predecessors - is consistently enjoyable and occasionally brilliant thanks to the influences it draws from.
channels the energy of previous albums but also shows a musical evolution for the band, one that’s apparent right from the get-go with their best single to date, “What You Want”. Riffing and upbeat drumming segue into a piano-led chorus where Amy sings: “Hello, hello - remember me? / I’m everything you can’t control / Somewhere beyond the pain there must be a way to believe we can break through”. The percussion and dancy synthesizer shed light on a different, less-damaged sounding Evanescence with the whole band playing to their potential. Here they withdraw from their angst and sing of optimism, a theme not often prevalent in their music. Up until now Amy Lee has been to Evanescence what Hayley Williams is to Paramore: the face of the band. Amy’s band-mates are anonymous to most, often standing in photo-shoots dressed in almost all black, contrasted against her fashionable wardrobe. Beyond an obvious marketing strategy to use aesthetics to promote the band, it’s also a little curious that she’s the most prominent force in every song on previous albums Fallen
and The Open Door
. Thankfully, on Evanescence
the songs feel like a collective work, showing the best traits of each member with no one person ever over-stepping the other. That said, Amy’s voice is still one of the most attractive qualities -- never has she sounded as convicted as she does in “The Change” when she cries: “You've been dreaming if you're thinking that I still belong to you / I've been dying 'cause I'm lying to myself”. Although the lyrical content is a little cliche and juvenile at points, it’s genuinely felt through Amy’s gorgeous vocalization and conveys independence and hope here and there where it counts.
It’s obvious when hearing the synthesizers and production that Evanescence are borrowing influences from cited artists that range from MGMT to Bjork. “Lost in Paradise” pays homage to the latter, starting with gentle piano chords, evolving into a rich piece of music with exhilarating strings and a grandiose climax. “Swimming Home” is the electro-pop song of the album - it rolls along with lush production, slick beats and an oft-used drum kit, showing the band’s electronically conscious side. The variance and musicianship here are what keep Evanescence
from being just another typical nu-metal/goth rock outing, and their influences give a fresh new sound to their appeal, but make no mistake: this is still the same band with dark themes, riffs abound, and theatricality to their music, they’ve just outgrown their inability to write a consistent and fluid album.
Still, all of this praise might be a little misguided. While Evanescence
is a surprisingly great release from an otherwise average to good band, it’s still not going to steal 2011’s heart, or even trouble users’ top albums lists. Its faults are that some of the songs seem aimless and detract from the flow of the album, like “Made of Stone” and “The Other Side,” the ‘fillers’ of the album, if you will. They aren’t necessarily bad per se, but seem aimless - housing some of Evanescence’s most boring choruses to date and failing to elicit an emotional response. Also impeding on the album’s success are the somewhat overly simplistic and unimaginative lyrics found in songs like “Lost in Paradise”. Despite it being a gorgeous song, evoking Bjork’s cold, cerebral style, the lyrics - hidden in the guise of beauty - are a little corny and typical: “Take it all away / Shadows of you / ‘Cause they won’t let me go, so I have nothing left / And all I feel is this cruel wanting / We’ve been falling for all this time / And now I’m lost in paradise”.
At any rate, Amy and co. have created their first focused album and it’s better than anything they’ve done (EP or otherwise) by a large margin. Evanescence are beginning to pull away from the adolescence that brought us Fallen
, but there’s still plenty of room for improvement. If they continue on this way and experiment more, perhaps they’ll still be able to make something worthy of standing the test of time. Even still, Evanescence
is a bold step in the right direction.