Evanescence and the Killers Get Ready for Their Encores
It’s not polite to scapegoat, but something must be said. So far this has been yet another year of declining CD sales. And it looks as if rock ’n’ roll bands in particular aren’t pulling their weight.
When Nielsen SoundScan named the 10 best-selling CD’s of the first half of 2006, top honors went to Disney’s wildly successful pre-teen soundtrack “High School Musical,” which sold more than 2.6 million copies. The only rock album on the list was “All the Right Reasons.” That’s the bad news, but here’s the worse news: That album squeaked in at No. 10. Worse still: It has barely sold a million copies. Worst of all: It was made by Nickelback. (For now that risible Canadian neo-grunge act is America’s favorite rock band.)
This fall a couple of very different bands will try to pick up the slack: Evanescence and the Killers. Each has a new single out, and each is scheduled to release a new album on Oct. 3. But they have little else in common except for a lack of peers. Both of them are returning after having released blockbuster debut albums. Hardly any other bands can say that.
The story of Evanescence is proof that fame and popularity don’t always go together. The first proper Evanescence album, “Fallen” (Wind-Up), was released in 2003. (It included some rerecorded songs from an earlier, limited-edition, self-released CD, “Origin.”) “Fallen” yielded a series of hits, starting with “Bring Me to Life.” That song summed up the group’s formula: heavy, rasping guitars, driving the songs down; melancholy electronic flourishes hovering in the middle; the eerie, crystalline voice of Amy Lee, lifting the songs. Since then “Fallen” has sold more than 6.5 million copies in America; that’s about a million more than Mariah Carey’s 2005 triumph, “The Emancipation of Mimi,” and Evanescence did it much more quietly.
Before “Fallen,” Evanescence had been nurtured in the contemporary Christian music scene. But barely a month after the release of “Fallen,” Ben Moody, the guitarist and songwriter who founded the band with Ms. Lee, told an interviewer he was dismayed to see “Fallen” on Christian charts. That did the trick: Christian shops pulled the CD, and the controversy helped introduce Evanescence to a wider audience.
Even so, even now, Ms. Lee seems somehow like a cult favorite: a reclusive, sometimes standoffish figure, out of place in an era defined by cheerful self-promotion. But it’s a good thing her cult is a big one, because she’s nearly the only Evanescence member who survived success. Mark Hodges, the keyboardist, left before “Fallen” was released; Mr. Moody quit less than a year after the infamous interview; a few weeks ago William Boyd, the bassist, became the latest defector. (On the Evanescence Web site, Ms. Lee wrote that Mr. Boyd “wants to stay a little closer to his family.”)
The new Evanescence single found its way onto the Internet a few days ago, and radio stations started playing it on Tuesday. It’s called “Call Me When You’re Sober,” and it’s classic Evanescence: bombastic, meticulously produced (Ms. Lee’s vocals are doubled for the second stanza), unreasonably addictive. It starts as a piano ballad, swerves into hard rock, then builds to a grandiose pop- orchestral refrain, and later on a glorious, glimmering bridge.
Ms. Lee is probably fortunate (though she’d never say so) that the song arrives accompanied by its own little scandal. She has been dating Shaun Morgan, lead singer of the band Seether, who recently announced that he was seeking treatment for “addictions that I can’t kick on my own.”
The song certainly seems to echo this real-life story line. Ms. Lee sings, “You never call me when you’re sober/You only want it ’cause it’s over.” And the video, which is to receive an MTV premiere on Monday (label executives are scrambling to keep it off YouTube), ends with Ms. Lee walking down a long banquet table toward a man who clearly doesn’t know what he’s in for. “Don’t love me/Just get your things/I’ve made up your mind,” she sings, and then she does something truly hurtful: she giggles.
Viewers might notice some other guys in the video too. Those would be the musicians who seem an awful lot, these days, like Ms. Lee’s backup band. As she gears up to try to reproduce a result (6.5 million) that seems irreproducible, she seems to be working more or less alone. This video gestures at metaphor: in it Ms. Lee is literally thrown to the wolves. (Or at any rate, placed among them.) But if anyone looks intimidated, it’s not she.
There’s lots less drama in the Killers’ story. The Killers, from Las Vegas, are among the dozens of well-tailored dance-rock bands that major labels have pushed in the last few years. But unlike almost all the rest of them, the Killers actually found success with their debut album, “Hot Fuss” (Island Def Jam), in 2004: the band sold more than three million copies, winning over Kelly Clarkson fans and Yeah Yeah Yeahs fans.
While Evanescence defined itself against a Christian scene the members no longer felt part of, the Killers took pains to distance themselves from bands they didn’t respect. The Killers’ endlessly entertaining lead singer, Brandon Flowers, recently told MTV: “Emo, pop-punk - whatever you want to call it- is dangerous. We don’t want to dislike anyone, and we’ve still never met Fall Out Boy, but there’s a creature inside me that wants to beat all those bands to death.” (He has since apologized, sort of, though not nearly so pithily.)
Part of the secret behind “Hot Fuss” was that it contained more than a dash of emo, along with bass lines and keyboard sounds borrowed from another, similarly theatrical genre: new wave. (No word on where, exactly, he found that semi-English accent, though it’s hard to hate the absurd way he sings the word promenade.)
Even though “Hot Fuss” wasn’t nearly as big a hit as “Fallen,” the Killers’ odds look a good deal shorter than Evanescence’s, partly because the Killers’ lineup has remained intact. And you can hear some swagger in “When You Were Young,” the first single to be released from the new Killers album.
It’s no surprise to hear Mr. Flowers stealing a few moves from Ric Ocasek. (When he sings the words “Let’s take it easy,” you almost expect a cease-and-desist letter to show up, midsong.) What’s more unexpected - and more exciting-is the suggestion that this band has gotten even better at making songs sound audacious and wistful at the same time. And if anything, Mr. Flowers sounds even more ambitious: he sings like a man eager to annex Strokes territory, Coldplay territory and all the territories in between. Why not? Someone’s got to.