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Album Review

It's been five years since we last heard the soaring (mezzo) soprano of Amy Lee, Evanescence's raison d'être and lone remaining original member.

But you'd never know half a decade had passed, given how little the band's sound and substance has changed. For that matter, listening to Evanescence's third, self-titled release, you'd be forgiven for thinking the calendar actually hasn't budged much since 2003—the year Amy and Co. proved (to the tune of 17 million albums sold worldwide) that brooding, melodramatic angst paired with massive melodic rock hooks and a decidedly gothic look was a winning formula.

It's a formula Amy Lee hasn't touched since. Although in her case, the best cliché to describe the approach isn't so much, If it ain't broke, don't fix it. It's more like, If it's broke, sing about it.

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Album opener "What You Want" is an empowerment anthem of sorts. "Do what you want you want, your world's closing in on your now," Amy advises. "It isn't over/Stand and face the unknown/Got to remember who you really are." And she has a passing moment of something like healthy relinquishment of her pain on "My Heart Is Broken": "Change/Open your eyes to the light/I denied it all so long/Say goodbye." On "Erase This," Amy temporarily resolves to overcome her pain ("I'm gonna save this wasted life, and nothing can stand in my way").

"The Other Side" looks forward to a time of wholeness, perhaps in heaven, perhaps on "the other side" of a relational dissolution. "Make me whole again," the song begins, and though it's tempting to interpret this request as a prayer to God, the broader context makes it seem like it's actually about a lost love ("I want you back/ … I can't let you go"). Either way, we find ourselves looking forward to a time of reconciliation down the road, whether in this life or the next ("Counting down the days to meet you on the other side/I will always be waiting/ … Come take me home").

Speaking of prayers, one line on "Oceans" is a lot closer to being a genuine petition: "Heaven help me find a way to dream within this nightmare."

And speaking of dreams, "End of the Dream" exhorts listeners to keep taking risks with their hearts, with full knowledge that they might well be battered in the process. "As much as it hurts, ain't it wonderful to feel?/So go on and break your wings/Follow your heart till it bleeds/I'm not afraid/I pushed through the pain/And I'm on fire/I remember how to breathe again." (That's about as close to optimism as Amy ever gets. And, as you can see, we've got bleeding hearts and broken wings to contend with all along the way.)

Objectionable Content

Little on Evanescence's album is out-and-out objectionable. That said, nine or perhaps 10 of the 12 tracks vent Amy's seemingly bottomless well of emotional anguish. She longs for relational and romantic fulfillment with all her heart. But to listen to her, it seems all she's ever known is shattered expectations. And the cumulative effect of so much soul-wrenching angst can send you places you really shouldn't want to go.

Some examples: "I pulled away to face the pain/I close my eyes and drift away/Over the fear that I will never find a way to heal my soul/And I will wander till the end of time/Torn away from you" ("My Heart Is Broken").

"I'm drowning in the mess that I have made/ … I cannot erase this darkness in me" ("Erase This").

"I've been believing in something so distant/As if I was human/And I've been denying this feeling of hopelessness in me, in me/ … I have nothing left/And all I feel is this cruel wanting" ("Lost in Paradise").

"Don't want to be the one to walk away/But I can't bear the thought of one more day/I think I finally understand what it means to be lost/ … Can't find the road to lead us out of this/ … Can't keep pretending everything's gonna be alright/With the whole world falling around me" ("Oceans").

"I'm the one who's drowning/Without your love I am lost/And I can never go back home" ("Never Go Back").

Summary Advisory

The words lost and soul pop up over and over again in Amy Lee's lyrics. So at the risk of sounding a bit presumptuous, I can't help but say that it seems to me she's desperately looking for—but failing to find—salvation. And I can apply that grid from both a spiritual perspective … and a relational one. Raw, earnest songs reveal a woman consumed and driven by her longing for fulfillment in the deepest crevices of her soul. But it just keeps not happening. And not happening. And not happening.

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Debuted at No. 1 with first-week sales of 127,00 units.

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October 18, 2011

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Adam R. Holz

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