Two young Christians meet at a retreat, the one overhearing the other singing, and they decide to form a band. I seem to like the music that comes from such arrangements. That is the oversimplified history of Sixpence None the Richer, which I have promised to deal with really soon now. Interestingly, it is also the oversimplified history of Evanescence, and indeed, part of what intrigued me about the latter band early on. The following is a short history and reflection on the direction of Evanescence (including a convenient link to a legal, free Real stream of a song, should you wish to hear them).
The latter band, founded the better part of a decade after Sixpence, spent its first few years in the so-called “Alternative Christian Rock” genre. It gathered a loyal following, so I am told, there, but it took a few years before it finally wound up at the small, but growing label Wind-Up Records, which does both secular and Christian music distribution. The first Evanescence CD through Wind-Up, Fallen had several singles featured in movies even before its release, something that set in motion its almost immediate rise up the charts. Prior to the release, the group in some form decided that it wanted to distribute the CD through Wind-Up's Christian distribution division, in addition to its standard distribution system.
Given the method of distribution, numerous Christian publications, including Christianity Today, did reviews of the album and generally gave it very good marks. It is not a hopeful CD, but not every CD needs to be or should be. It has many striking lyrics, quite a few with undertones Christian listeners can appreciate. Some of it is ambiguous as to what it refers to, but other tracks, such as “Tourniquet” and “Whisper” deal with salvation and the apocalypse, respectively, if I am not mistaken. In the album pamphlet, the first acknowledgment by Ben Moody was to Jesus, of whom he stated “all the life left in me is you.”
The CD has far too hard of edge, leaning too much on really loud guitar lyrics on some of the songs. But it combines those with excellent piano, strings and vocals for something that is worthy of listening to. I've seen numerous sites describe the band as a hard rock group fronted by Sarah McLachlan. It's something different than normal, needless to say. Tracks such as “My Immortal,” from Fallen and “Missing,” from the more recent album discussed below, even drop the excessive guitar for piano and a synth background of voices, respectively.
Things were looking good until the CD came out. Shortly thereafter, Moody, in an interview questioned the popularity of the CD in Christian circles (it was climbing the Billboard Christian chart) using some rather strong language. Moody, having been involved in the decision to market the CD to Christian stores shouldn't have been surprised. Amy Lee, his co-founder of the band, also peppered the interview with vulgar language. Wind-Up, not wanting to alienate Christian stores from itself, immediately recalled the CD's and brought an end to Evanescence's time in Christian bookstores.
After this occurrence, Christianity Today withdrew its prior review with a story of the incident (which was also reported widely elsewhere). Their new piece, like one published by Focus on the Family expressed concerns about Evanescence, although both continued to affirm the artistic aspect of the work.
Since that time, a number of things have happened. In October of 2003, Moody left (willingly or not isn't clear) to avert an imminent break up of it. It is rather interesting this occurred only months after the group decided to distance itself from its Christian faith. With only Lee remaining at the helm, Evanescence released a new CD this past fall that demonstrated the increasing depths it has fallen to. Anywhere But Home, is, for the most part, an unspectacular live audio CD and DVD combo. Its one real redeeming aspect is a studio recorded track entitled “Missing,” a haunting, quiet track that sounds somewhat more along the lines of “My Immortal” than their other works, and is well worth listening to if you liked the older track.
Sadly, even if Anywhere But Home was an artistic masterpiece (which it is not), it would be hard to recommend, and that brings me back to the point about having fallen. One track from the new CD contains multiple uses of a certain Anglo-Saxon word that has a resilient, if dubious life in modern culture. It is a cover and not an original song, but they chose to use it unmodified, rather than following the tradition of Christian Linux users who substitute the F in RTFM for “Fine,” or perhaps choosing a more suitable song all together. Compounding the situation, the label's choice not to place the appropriate warning label on the album has likely increased sales beyond what they would be if properly marked, and has lead to Wal-Mart getting into hot water for selling it.
Does this mean that Fallen is any less interesting or some of its words less meaningful than it was when originally released? No, what it really shows it what fame can do to people. Presuming that the group was sincere prior to their success, and not merely trying to benefit by claiming to be Christian, it shows that they were willing to give up principles for what they hoped to be better commercial success.
This is an interesting segue into my next piece on music, one on Sixpence None the Richer. The reason for this ordering, as I think you will see, is that there are not only some interesting parallels between the two groups, there are also some important differences. Sixpence found a way to balance commercial success with staying true to God. That's true success, obviously, far more important than simply selling a lot of CD's.
For those of you who haven't heard Evanescence's music, you may want to click over here for the music video of “My Immortal.” It is perfectly free to listen to, presuming you have Real Player, and I am personally quite fond of it. As I said, the actions of the group in recent years does not mitigate what they released previously, so give it a listen. It is a shame that “Missing” is not available in a form other that of Anywhere But Home, for it is worth a listen too, but the group certainly does not deserve encouragement on that album, nor is it worth the cost for one song.
Breimeier, Russ. “Fallen.” Christianity Today. 2003. ChristianityToday.com 29 Jan 2005 <http://www.christianitytoday.com/music/glimpses/2003/fallen.html>.