In the last month, two acts who sold massive quantities of their debut albums have put out new follow-up CDs (I know Aiken had released a Christmas album, but you can’t expect me to count that). After all kinds of personal turmoil, it was perhaps uncertain whether Evanescence would be around to produce a second album, but they have returned with The Open Door. Clay Aiken’s album, A Thousand Different Ways, hit stores several weeks prior, and though their two styles could not be more different and their target audiences probably don’t overlap (except in weirdos like myself) I’m sure that they (and their respective record companies) are expecting big financial returns from those albums. After having listened to both discs a few times, I confess myself disappointed. It seems like both acts have fallen into the sophomore trap: trying to make lightning strike twice with an album full of tracks that all follow the act’s signature style but sacrificing the freshness of variation in the process. While I like both Evanescence and Clay Aiken’s styles, I find both new albums to be on the monotonous side.
The Open Door
On their official web site, Evanescence say that on The Open Door, they have been able to use their difficult experiences to add greater variety of emotion to this album. If they’ve done that, it must all be in the lyrics (which I find difficult to focus on in an Evanescence song when all the guitars kick in) because the music of the tracks are far less distinct than those on the band’s previous album, Fallen. The expected elements are still there: Amy Lee’s beautiful, strong, and mournful vocals, along with the engine-revving guitar riffs to counter-balance them. Whenever the guitars ease up and her voice comes through, it’s as refreshing as walking out of the dark woods into a sunny clearing.
Some reviews have mentioned that The Open Door has a fewer “hooks” than Fallen. I hate the term “hook” used in describing popular music because it sounds condescending. If I enjoy the melody, am I some kind of stupid fish that has been easily caught by unsophisticated musical bait? I prefer to say that Fallen had a lot more distinctive melodies, more catchy pieces that allow me to say, “I like this song”. On The Open Door, there’s only the last track, “Good Enough”, which resists the temptation to kick in the growling guitars and stays quiet and melodic throughout (it makes me miss Fallen’s ballad “My Immortal”). I think that’s my favourite track on the album, but it completely sounds like an Evanescence take on a Sarah McLachlan song (“I Will Remember You” perhaps). With the exception of another track, “Lithium”, I can’t say that any song really stuck out for me—not even the current radio hit “Call Me When You’re Sober”. (3 out of 5)
A Thousand Different Ways
Some of you might consider it sacrilege for me to even mention Clay Aiken in the same review as Evanescence. Some of you might be shocked that I actually like his music (no, I am not channelling a 12-year-old girl from the American South). I have always been a fan of un-hip, un-R&B pop music, and Aiken really has that down to a “T”. I was pleasantly surprised when I found myself really enjoying his debut, Measure of a Man. Unfortunately, with A Thousand Different Ways he has done what so many of the more mellow artists tend to do: covers of classic songs. The idea of covering classic songs seems like a guaranteed success story, but I think that is the gutless way to do things (in more ways than one). Not only does it fill an album with safe songs (which were hits before, so presumably will be hits if merely re-sung by someone else), but it also means that the true essence of the cover artist, and his/her musical style is not really going to come through. The ghost of the original artist lingers.
A Thousand Different Ways covers all manner of white-bread pop classic: Richard Marx’s “Right Here Waiting”, Paul Young’s “Every Time You Go Away”, Celin Dion’s “Because You Loved Me”, and the ultimate: “Everything I Do” by Bryan Adams. While there are artists that can really reinvent and reinvigorate any or all of those songs, that just didn’t happen for this album. I blame the producers. There doesn’t seem to be anything inventive about the arrangements. It’s more like “Clay Aiken does Karaoke Night”. For my money, I prefer the songs that are original to this album, including “Lonely No More”, “Here You Come Again”, and “These Open Arms”. Actually, I am not even sure (without checking the CD insert) that these are original songs (I just don’t recognize them), but the gusto that Aiken sings them with really makes the other tracks feel like he’s being vocally straight-jacketed by the fear of tampering with a “classic”. Unfortunately, not even the best tracks on this album rival those from Measure of a Man (3.5 out of 5).