A few years ago, when Evanescence got off the bus from Arkansas and sold 7 million copies of their debut album, Fallen, they were the only Evanescence around. As soon as you saw the video for “My Immortal,” you knew you were in the presence of a teen-misery titan, as Amy Lee tiptoed through a marble castle of pain, in a Victorian white dress she could have borrowed from Stevie Nicks, and a voice that came from you and me. But these days there are scads of Evanescences: young bands searching for the right combo of goth eyeliner, deader-than-death skin tone and morbid alterna-teen melodrama. Without Evanescence, could there be a My Chemical Romance or Panic! at the Disco? Evanescence’s goth-metal bombast got its impact from Lee’s spirituality, as she played her piano and sang about her haunted romances with both boys and God. In the process, she became America’s favorite Christian zombie-vampire girl. Did that make her happy? One listen to The Open Door should let you know: Amy Lee is still extremely sad about boys, God and much, much more.
In the three years since Fallen, Lee has gone through a few major lifestyle changes. For one thing, she is now a rock star, which is why she now writes songs about the pressures of fame (“Weight of the World”) and psycho fans (“Snow White Queen”). She also split with guitarist Ben Moody, whom she met at Christian summer camp while she was singing a Meat Loaf ballad. But, really, Lee could replace the boys in the band mid-song and nobody would notice. When the pain takes over her corseted soul, as in practically every song on The Open Door, she just overdubs her big bodice-ripping voice into a choir. Her vocals are over the top, in the mode of Eighties shoulder-pad belters like Pat Benatar or Heart’s Ann Wilson, which suits breakup songs like “Sweet Sacrifice” and “Call Me When You’re Sober.”
But Lee’s greatness is her ordinariness. She still sounds like a very average Middle American girl who yearns to be “Good Enough” but who suffers from an above-average attraction to magnetic and destructive dudes. One of these dudes seems to be the Lord Himself (“Your Star”), and at least one other seems to be her ex-boyfriend from Seether. “Call Me When You’re Sober” appears to be about the latter; “Sweet Sacrifice” is clearly aimed at Moody (“One day I’m gonna forget your name/And one sweet day, you’re gonna drown in my lost pain”); and “Lithium” is her ode to Kurt Cobain. How does one girl collect so many dangerous boys? Every time she leaves the house, she seems to run into some messianic skater dude who puts her on “Cloud 9” and makes her “Lose Control,” until she ends up as “Lacrymosa,” sobbing hysterically over a grand piano. But if Lee sometimes can’t tell the difference between the Holy Spirit and the cute guy at the next locker, how does that make her different from any other high school girl? Or you, for that matter?
It definitely says something that the best songs on The Open Door are the creepiest. She identifies with a fan who’s stalking her, in the seriously disturbed “Snow White Queen.” She out-“Helena” ‘s “Helena” in the teen-death trip “Like You,” where she eulogizes her dead sister: “I long to be like you/Lie cold in the ground like you.” Obviously, Lee has got a touch of the magnetic and destructive herself. But that’s what makes the breakup songs on The Open Door feel mighty real.