these things go in cycles--it's been proven, if not by science then by repetition. it's probably something that can be blamed on television and, by extension, capitalism, but i'll leave that sort of heavy duty theorizing to greil marcus. for now, it's enough to say that it has become blatantly obvious and leave it at that. in the 70s, everyone was looking to the 50s and the dawn of rock and roll--happy days, if not sha na na, is still in syndication to prove this. in the 80s, they were looking at the flower power generation of the 60s. in the 90s, the disco hits of the 70s (and their attendant fucking horrible fashion sense) captured far more attention than it seems they should have. and now in 2003, we are smack in the middle of a full-scale revival of the bleep bloop weird haircut new wave early 80s. the underground is awash with gang of four and public image ltd knockoff, while others in the mainstream are championing the sound and style of bands like new order and duran duran. the exhumation of whatever was vapid, mindless pop culture 20 years ago continues full throttle as it has every few years since before i or anyone in my generation was even born. we can expect a full-scale glam metal revival by 2008--don't laugh, the stage has been set quite nicely by chuck klosterman's masterful "fargo rock city" and by the media attention garnered by dueling guns n' roses(es) (one being axl and a bunch of out-of-work session guys and past gloryhounds, the other being everyone from the lineup we all knew and loved BUT axl, who are currently looking for a singer to fill the kilt that axl himself probably doesn't even fit into anymore)--the signs are in place, don't be naive enough not to notice them. no doubt a revival of "alternative/buzzbin" music will hit in the beginning of the next decade, and the nu-metal revival will follow 8 or so years later. by 2019, evanescence will sound every bit as dated to the teenagers of what will be my 43rd year on this planet as orchestral manoevres in the dark do to the kids who bop around new york discotheques, thinking unironically (or as unironically as anyone who's part of one of these pop culture revival trends can possibly think of anything) of themselves as "electroclash". "bring me to life" will appear alongside all of the other nu-metal hits of yesteryear by such by-then forgotten bands as saliva and linkin park on cd comps released by rhino and warner archives, their covers festooned with aggressively passe images and designs, hoping to get some cash from kids who want to invest some sort of wider importance into a sound and movement that at the time (which, so that we don't lose too much perspective, is now) was nothing more than a contrived pop fad, a way to sell records, a blatant spate of commercialism.
and it's a shame, really, because if one listens to evanescence's "fallen" in its entirety more than a few times, it becomes obvious that there's a lot more talent lurking here than one could find on almost any other such disposable records released to cash in on this year's trend, such as the new offerings by originators limp bizkit and godsmack, let alone the rest of this year's crop--most accurately represented by such third-tier acts as chevelle, cold, and taproot. to begin with, "bring me to life" is truly an excellent song. it combines the strikingly beautiful female vocals that probably do more on an immediate basis to set this band ahead of the pack with which they are often grouped than any other element of their sound with both anthemic, melodic choruses and crunching metal riffs to produce one of the most immediately catchy and enjoyable tunes to hit top 40 so far this decade. not to mention the fact that the 3-second guitar breakaway between the first chorus and the second verse is probably the first true metal riff that i have ever heard on mainstream, top 40 radio--a facto that generates favor in my eyes even if it is a rather standard metal riff; certainly nothing to write home about in any other circumstance. the only thing that mars what would otherwise be an amazing song is the fred durst-ish male backup vocal on the chorus, which gets a solo turn near the emotional climax of the song. the band's official website is quick to point out that the addition of this extra vocal was the record company's idea, not their own, thereby indicating that they don't like it much more than they assume their fans do.
however, that right there is a prime indicator of what keeps "fallen" from being a truly good album. no matter how much talent went into the composition and performance of these songs, it's obvious that this record is a product first and foremost in the eyes of the people who bankrolled its creation. evanescence are a talented group of young people who saw a chance for money and fame and grabbed at it, without realizing the unfortunate downside to the deal they'd cut, and their record bears the scars of that downside openly and in abundance. the production is computerized and glossed over to the extreme--real guitar riffs that would demand attention if they'd been given the space to are sacrificed every time in favor of another synth wash, more computer textures, that sound that can't be defined any more particularly than by the word "production" sloshed around liberally until the songs are coated in sticky, sugary glops of it. and while in the end the album is definitely spotty, "bring me to life" is not the only song crafted brilliantly enough to shine through the syrupy shit all over the place--"tourniquet" is excellent, an anthem that stands out due to its forward motion and intense chorus and is so obviously the second single that if i don't hear it on the radio in another month, some a & r person is lying down on the job [note: i wrote this review in august and am only now publishing it--the second single was "going under", one of the most uninspired songs on the album. record labels are morons.]. "everybody's fool" is catchy enough to remain in your head after the album is over, "my immortal" is a surprisingly well-done showcase for vocalist amy and her skills at piano, and the part at the end of the album where the last song fades into a dramatic classical overture is a great way to end a record. but the listener has to fight to discover all of this stuff, buried as it is under the computerized sheen that's state of the art now and will sound horribly dated in 20 years. it's always possible that this band will be able to outlast the one-hit wonder status they seem destined for at this juncture--there are other good songs on the album that could be just as successful as "bring me to life", and who knows? their next three albums could all be tremendous advances in songcraft, to the point where no one even thinks of "bring me to life" anymore when they hear the name evanescence in 10 years. after all, it happened to radiohead--really, who thinks of "creep" and nothing else when they hear that name these days? however, no matter where evanescence goes from here, the fact remains that what could have been a far better album has here been sacrificed to the unheeding gods of commercialism. if you're willing to dig through the syrupy production, there are worthwhile moments to be had here, but it is certainly nowhere near what it could have been.
(originally written fall 2003)