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Wednesday, January 07, 2004
Speaking of which...

This isn't a view I've really seen expressed much in the blogosphere, so I'm just going to spit it out: I really like Evanescence.

Of course, by "I like Evanescence," I mean what 99% of people mean when they say this phrase: I like their two big singles, "Bring Me to Life" and "Going Under." I've tried to listen to the rest of the album, and it's OK, but I haven't really had time to really get into it yet.

But those two songs: holy crap! It's like a depressed Andrew WK! OK, that sounds weird, so let's go with AWK meets the Cure. But anyway: rargh! Those two songs are just these wonderful little overproduced nuggets, hyperpop in a slightly different form than we're used to, but far closer in kin to Basement Jaxx than Limp Bizkit, albeit not quite as good as the best stuff from the Jaxx. But this is an unfair comparison. Let's try this: those two songs are far better pop than almost any other rock record this year. Yeah, it's easy to be put off by the sound; they're not doing the shambling indie thing nor the recognizably retro thing, and they sound wholly like they come from the '00s, albeit with a good bit of 80's and 90's influences (the aforementioned Cure, Nine Inch Nails, maybe some Cult, maybe some Corrosion of Conformity), and I certainly understand how similarity to the really quite putrid and boring rap-metal dynasty can be off-putting. But if anyone's done that sound well, it's Evanescence. For one thing, those two singles contain a mind-boggling number of Matrixy ProTools tricks that serves as hooks (like the stuttering guitars after the first chorus and the stuttering synths before the second chorus in "Bring Me," for instance, or the great mishmash of vocal processings that happens around 2:55 in the bridge), in addition to all the lines that are, you know, actual hooks. It sounds like what would happen if a pop diva went all-out and made an actual hard-rock record: all the signs and sections and structures for a Now-pop song are there, but the drums are real, mostly, and the synths are bass-heavy guitars. And then there are more synths! Yeah!

I guess the other ideological problem is that, well, it's not even remotely happy music. No two ways about it: this is music to make your bad mood feel awesome and smooth, to make you scowl as you walk down the street. But here it's OK. Their AMG bio contains two great explanations for why that is.

First: a whole bunch of Tori Amos comparisons. Now, Tori and Amy Lee seem to my ears to have quite different vocal styles; Amy's got none of the breathiness or melisma-madness that Tori goes for. She's got a hell of a lot of power, but she pretty much goes directly at the notes and words, which is not something we'd really accuse our dear Ms. Amos of doing. Now, I like Tori, a lot; she somehow makes the drama OK in a way a whole lot of other singers and composers don't. She makes it warm, and that's what Amy does on those two tracks. It's downbeat, but it's not really hopeless or angry. You want to save her, and then kiss her, or at least I do. It's like how you walk out of a Tori concert and just want to go run around a field or something. (Not in a hippie way, just, you know, I seem to have a lot of energy.)

The other clue, of course, is in how the male half, Ben Moody, hooked up with Amy. "I heard Amy playing Meat Loaf's 'I'd Do Anything for Love' at the piano. So I went over to meet her, and she started singing for me." OK, first off, why the hell hasn't Tori covered Meat Loaf yet? And secondly: yeah, there it is. Again, Meat Loaf is someone who, at his best, can take the overblown and make it personal and concise enough to be effecting. Evanescence are, after all, sort of a Christian-rock band, although they were musically excommunicated for swearing in interviews. And there's definitely something Biblical about them, something old-school Christian. Besides of course the general ideological differences, the problem a lot of music fans (i.e. young people, i.e. liberals--let's be honest) seem to have with contemporary American Evangelical Christianity, manifested most directly in Christian Rock, is that it's so commercialized, so banal, so boring and normal. I think there's the assumption at the back of music fans' heads that Christianity at its best is beautiful cathedrals or gritty Baptist churches, full of passion and truth--you know, Al Green, Johnny Cash, etc. But there's no magic in modern-day evangelical Christianity, and the sacred seems to be used mainly to influence buying decisions. That's reflected in the music, which seems just creepily lacking in any kind of passion and commitment, certainly much different from the fiery faith that seemed to inform Christian musicians like Bach. But Evanescence--certainly more Bachian than Stoogian in their song construction, meticulous and perfectionist--seem to have that sort of irrational fire in those two songs, which express not really earthly problems but something grand and inflated to the degree that it's clearly not asking you to take it seriously. But it's not particularly funny, either--though it is comic--and that somehow lets you settle back and enjoy the song. I'm no great fan of unspecificity, but here it really does speak in a vocal piece to the kind of nameless torment, great or small, that Bach's instrumentals did. I guess the best way to describe it would be operatic: big, grand, theatrical, and totally unselfconscious. It's not little or personal, but sometimes music doesn't need to be little and personal. Sometimes it's at its best when it's the hugest thing ever.

So what exactly do I like about these songs? Well, I like the melody. The lines Lee plucks out of the one-note chug of the verse of "Going Under" are just mind-boggling. They sound like something I've wanted to hear for a long time, something I've been listening for ever since I heard a hardcore or death metal song and thought, "Those guitars sound fantastic, but could that asshole stop screaming and fucking sing something?" (A perfect, soaring vocal line always seemed far more powerful than even the loudest scream to me.) I love the way Amy seems to be fighting back that fucking dumb-ass rap-rocker and winning, the way putting those vocals next to his make his sound just childish; the fact that she dominates the song, not him, seems like a kind of fuck-you on behalf of every great female singer who's been relegated to the hook of a hip-hop single. And I really do love that mess of processing at the end of the bridge: in headphones, it's like there's already a great conversation going on and then suddenly people are whispering in your ears and you don't quite know what they're saying but you do anyway.

I love the piano intro to "Bring Me" and the way the strings come in for two bars and then the guitars and drums crash in. I love the way the chorus in "Going Under" gets foreshadowed at the midpoint of the first verse processed all Swedish-style. I love the chorus of "Going Under." I love the fact that you can dance to it, and that I can actually visualize the kind of people I see at goth nights dancing to it in the same way that they dance to Sisters of Mercy. I love the way the one-note vocal line leads out of the bridge of "Bring Me" into the chord change of the final chorus. I love the IDM-y snare rolls that come in under the quiet bits of "Going Under."

Yeah, I just like the songs. I like 'em like I like Christiana or Britney or Justin, and that's cool too.

ADDENDUM: Maybe "My Bloody Valentine with the reverb and delay turned off and the vocals mixed higher" is the comparison I was searching for. Writing this entry made me want to listen to Loveless.