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Jan 20

EVANESCENCE – “Bring Me To Life”

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#955, 14th June 2003

Corporate rock, a vignette: the label wanted Evanescence to add a male co-vocalist all through their debut album. The band said no, and so a compromise was met – Amy Lee would be joined by a growly dude only on this first single.

It’s a story which reveals a lot about mainstream rock in the early 00s, not much of it good. The conservatism, for a start, of assuming a woman couldn’t carry a rock band by herself. The grip that nu-metal had over the business, ensuring that the male carpetbagger’s role on “Bring Me To Life” is to bring the Durstish, squat-thrusting rap component in the song up to mandatory levels. The lack of appreciation of the way swooping goth-operatic vocals and agitated rock grind would fit together with no interference required.

But, as happens sometimes, a decision taken for a bad reason led to an interesting outcome. Far from making the song feel like hard rock, the forced duet means the song works better as pop. “Bring Me To Life” is an obvious chimera, but the core of it sounds so theatrical anyhow that the contrivance of the two singers just makes it stronger as a piece of melodrama, which is a style that works for pop, reaching out of the radio to grab you and speak to you heart-to-heart. 

(It doesn’t hurt that the vocal combination gives Evanescence the same basic dynamics as the Sugarcubes, or Aqua. A more angstful, more serious Aqua, to be sure, but the game of pealing melodies and gruff, guttural interruptions is the same, and just as immediate.)

This isn’t the first time in 2003 we’ve seen melodrama top the chart, though. Like t.A.t.U., Evanescence are offering an aesthetic of hyper-intense, hyper-dramatised feeling; taking moments of crisis, doubt and self discovery and turning them into maximalist art. That’s more or less how I experienced Evanescence at the time – more enjoyable urgency in a chart that had rediscovered a taste for sensation. But when I posted along those lines on Patreon, there was a rapid pushback on my somewhat off-handed approach. “Bring Me To Life” found an audience to whom its wild, earnest emoting meant the world (or even better, opened up the world). This groundswell of fandom were mostly young, mostly women, often queer – which probably explains why they went unnoticed, at least at this point, by a 30 year old straight man.

Mea culpa. Can I go back to the song and hear something of what that audience heard? At the very least, “Bring Me To Life” is a second opportunity to understand nu-metal. It’s an opposite pole to the prickly, stomping churlishness of Fred Durst and “Rollin’”, using the blade-sharp implements of the nu-metal sound to slice away layers of the self rather than build a fortress of scorn around it.    

“Bring Me To Life” is a statue’s-eye-view of the Pygmalion myth, a desperate demand to be completed, not left abandoned – it got plenty of support from Christian radio, but whatever she had in mind, Amy Lee sensibly leaves the lyrics ambiguous: they could be addressing a lover, or God, or an aspect of the singer. (The ambiguity, and the terror of irresistible change, puts this in a similar space to “The Day Before You Came”). I feel like that feeling of incompleteness, that fundamental dissatisfaction, is a thread across a lot of nu-metal, its chief inheritance from grunge and alt.rock. The numbness Lee is running from in “Bring Me To Life” shows up in Linkin Park’s “Numb” and “Faint”, the only nu-metal tracks to have truly dug into me.

Where I hear the song’s melodrama as a pop technique, you could also hear it as a blurt of emotion, messy by necessity not choice.  The point of wailed lines like “save me from the nothing I’ve become!”, set amongst the song’s churn and surge of guitars and synthesised strings, isn’t to express something unique, or to capture the nuance or shade of emotion. It’s to take a feeling and paint it as high and wide and shameless as you can, so the people who need to see it can.

6

Comments

  1. 1
    Lee Saunders on 19 Jan 2020 #

    My main anecdote about this is from the end of 2003 – my dad was compiling a CD-R of “monster rock” (had a pic of me in a halloween Frankenstein mask on the front) for the car. This was one of the songs lined up, to be burned from my copy of Huge Hits 2004. But when putting it together he accidentally burned the following song on that compilation, Spirit in the Sky. Hearing the CD back numerous times it was fun hearing a sequence of classic rock followed by Sanjeev of the Kumars suddenly going “hold up, dad you ready?” as if a cue for my dad to skip it immediately.

    As for the song, it was to me in 2003 what the Rasmus’ In the Shadows was in 2004, a very enjoyable bit of Kerrang goth (really my Kerrang-suited listening in 2003 was Good Charlotte). I probably saw it as a one-off in hit terms – by which I mean I was aware of Linkin Park and other nu-metal through a friend’s CDs (and soon would get a compilation of the stuff) but my parent’s hadn’t heard (of?) them (which was to change when my mum became a LP fan in later years – which leads me onto another detour which is to say their contemporaneous Meteora is an enjoyable and adventurous album).

    Where was I? 7

  2. 2
    flahr on 19 Jan 2020 #

    I was the right age for this but still not quite paying attention*, so I wouldn’t have known this enough at the time to think about its place in the world. I think to analyse it as nu-metal is, as you say, a bit sideways – from memory the mainstream tranche of my inner-city comprehensive secondary school would definitely consider this the music of ‘the Other’; certainly exposure to “My Immortal” would make it clear this band weren’t appropriate for macho rough-and-tumble like Limp Bizkit or Linkin Park. I guess what I’m groping towards is that this is the first of two unimpeachably fantastic e-word number ones***, though more to say on that much later.

    Re God: obviously no one deserves to be sentenced to being a Christian rock band without mens rea, but doing a song originally written for the band Soul Embraced with your band of people who met at Christian camp invites some interpretations of the line “breath into me and make me real”. But it’s fair and accurate to say it wasn’t Lee driving that.

    No one does the gruff male rap bits when they do this live (these days), which I suppose is explained by them not being supposed to exist in the first place.

    *apart from David Sneddon and Tomcraft** I recognise every 2003 song so far from the time, which won’t have happened before.

    **Each time I see a reference to “Loneliness” by Tomcraft being #1 I go through ten seconds of “hang on, someone’s making this up, aren’t they?”

    ***please read in the same spirit as my claim that a distantly-upcoming bunny is actually chiptune

  3. 3
    Chelovek na lune on 19 Jan 2020 #

    I didn’t know the background story about the record company’s demands, and had never before considered the bloke’s interjections as being Limp Bizkit-esque, but, gosh, they
    really are, aren’t they?

    That notwithstanding, I think that the intensity and directness of emotion and feeling expressed in this track points to precursors and influence not much in the often emotionally stultifying and and intellectually banal and socially masturbatory (and very very male and very suburban) realms of nu-metal but rather somewhere nearer to goth: the understated or ambigious hints referencing some sense of spirituality or religion (and its liberating power) as well as intensely felt (overfelt?) suffering in the music and lyrics, and the gloominess of the band’s image seemed to point that way too: there is a breadth of allusions and references as well as depth of emotion here to which Nu Metal could not aspire to nor attain: One could almost hope we were for the first time encountering a more vigorous All About Eve for the new millenium…. Moreover, I think that the apparent purity in the agony and hopes expressed in the track enable it to surpass melodrama to make it something deeper, more touching.

    Regardless, I think this is an absolute cracker of a track, a really refreshing – liberating – breeze at the top of the charts. I loved it on first hearing, and it has never bored me in the intervening years . While subsequent single “My Immortal” (toughened up considerably, compared with the album version) was even better: an absolutely class song.

    It maybe shouldn’t be a surprise that, at least as far as the charts were concerned, Evanescence would burn very brightly for a short time, before returning to obscurity – they surely couldn’t keep this level of intensity up – but what wondrous flames they lit when they were there.

    9

  4. 4
    Phil on 19 Jan 2020 #

    I’m finding Tom’s review of this song more interesting and engaging by a couple of orders of magnitude than I ever did the song itself. I wasn’t into folk yet in 2003, but I was already very, very bored with anyone trying to make herself look Mysterious and Witchy and Other; it was a long time since Kate Bush and Siouxsie, and I’d even been bored with them by about the third album (which in KB’s case only meant I had to rediscover her a couple of albums later). Give me Lauryn, give me Justine, give me Polly. But my formative (pubescent) musical memories were of Bolan and Bowie and Alice Cooper; perhaps deep down I think stage makeup’s for men. With the corollary that stage men are for makeup – emo? Fred Durst? dear oh dear… I do vaguely recall the grunt-rap on this track – and how it relegated it from “not for me” to “definitely not for me”.

    Aaaaanyway… the idea of “a statue’s-eye-view of the Pygmalion myth” and of a sexualised reading of an encounter with the divine – and/or a divinised(?) reading of a sexual encounter – rings lots of interesting bells. Perhaps I was missing out after all, grumpy early-40s proto-folkie that I was.

    the same basic dynamics as the Sugarcubes, or Aqua

    Ha. Hadn’t thought of the Sugarcubes – or Einar – in years. (And yes, that does mean that I have thought of…) Complete tangent, but I remember when the NME tried and failed to get an interview with Björk, and ended up sending questionnaires to a bunch of people who knew or had known her. The last prompt was “Sum up Björk in three words”, and of course most people were giving it the full buttercup sandwich – “Unpredictable, creative, beautiful”, “Mysterious, elusive, elfin” or (stepping it up) “Strange, strange, strange”. Unfortunately they’d also asked a former Sugarcube, and his three words were “Sneaky fucking bitch”.

  5. 5
    ThePensmith on 19 Jan 2020 #

    Hmmm. My overriding memory of Evanescence – and indeed, Amy Lee – is what they and this song seemed to represent to the contingency of my year group at school who were neither part of the popular (pardon the pun) or R&B loving crowd I referred to on the entry for ‘Beautiful’.

    Said contingency had very strong ideals about what was ‘real’ music and spoke honestly to their tortured teenage souls, and ‘Bring Me To Life’ seemed to be it, with Amy Lee their pin-up, male and female alike. Quite what was so torturing my peers that it sent them off in the direction of this and/or Linkin Park was something dweeby pop loving me never investigated, which is probably just as well.

    I didn’t really identify with it, still don’t now, but the fact it spent a whole month there suggests I was probably in the minority. I can however concur that it’s well produced and captures a dramatic air, so for that I land on a 4 overall for this.

    #2 watch – Christina Aguilera on its second week, with another dramatic gearshift for the third single from the ‘Stripped’ album in the form of ‘Fighter’, a song that was essentially a redux of ‘Queen of the Night’ as if reimagined into some bloody awful generic rock track. Particularly sets my teeth on edge even now for her pronunciation of the word ‘fighter’ as ‘FIIIIIDUUUUHHH’. Oversung and emoted to Bunnie J levels.

    Equally awful, but for very different reasons, on its third and fourth weeks was ‘The Fast Food Song’, by The Fast Food Rockers, a two girl one guy ensemble from the Stock and Aitken part of PWL. It was a Vengaboys-minus-the-E’s rewrite of primary school jam ‘A-Ram-Sam-Sam’, the lyrics changed to preach the joys of KFC, Pizza Hut and McDonald’s, which naturally had Mail readers clutching their pearls proclaiming it be banned for encouraging childhood obesity, and which immediately prompted said three restaurants to want nothing to do with it, hence McDonald’s bizarre decision to have Destiny’s Child promote them as a reimagined salad bar about a year or so later in what is one of the worst adverts I’ve ever seen: https://youtu.be/El4pJiaDQPo

  6. 6
    Kinitawowi on 20 Jan 2020 #

    I am sitting out most of 2003 here as I’m way too close to it for a whole series of intensely personal reasons (everything in it swings between 10 and 1 with very little in between, depending on then mindset – this is an 11 on that scale, possibly nearer an 8 if I was able to step back from it), but worth noting… this song got a kickstart four months before this single release thanks to the otherwise mostly forgettable Ben Affleck Daredevil movie.

  7. 7
    Brian B. on 20 Jan 2020 #

    My perspective on this track will be different from most, because in 2003, most of the pop radio I experienced was my then-wife’s clock radio, which would greet me every morning with half an hour of the newest post-grunge. I can see how the male vocals on “Bring Me to Life” could be brutish and unnecessary, but I was hearing the song amid ultra-solemn all-male acts like Nickelback and Linkin Park, Five-Finger Death Punch and Drowning Pool, Seether and Muse and (actual band name somehow) Hoobastank. It wasn’t a lineup I’d have ever chosen for myself, but I was in love, so I got used to it.

    The “Bring Me to Life” dude’s voice, in this context, was at least a punchy and rhythmic counterpoint, and eventually he proves he can sing a little. Meanwhile, the piano and Amy Lee’s vocals were a shot of genuine gorgeousness; the metal-guitar part of the song had a dance beat; and the little drops to windy near-silence were just the right amount of dynamics to let the song’s slams back into full force be at their most effective.

    I think Evanescence never duplicated its peak with this song. But their beauty-and-force combination has animated other female-fronted metal-with-orchestration bands (Nightwish, Lacuna Coil, recently Celestivl and Dialith and Battle Beast) that have made my life happier to this day. 10/10.

  8. 8
    Lee Saunders on 20 Jan 2020 #

    A not-very-close family friend at my uncle’s BBQ bought me the Fast Food Rockers single. Still wonder whether he got it specifically for me or if he was trying to get rid of it and if so how it came into his possession. A really kinda, truly, hideously terrible record, not that I saw it as anything of the sort when I was 5.

  9. 9
    Tommy Mack on 20 Jan 2020 #

    #4 – my mate suggested a better three word summation of Björk by The Sugarcubes might be “carried our band.” Ouch.

  10. 10
    mark sinker on 20 Jan 2020 #

    @5: you say “one of the worst adverts I’ve ever seen” but i say “never has the pronunciation of the phrase MOZARELLA STICKS been more sexily teutonic”

  11. 11
    Pete Baran on 20 Jan 2020 #

    The karaoke version did not have the male vocals on it, but I remember someone (unknown to me) singing it at the Bar @ TCR karaoke. She was doing an excellent job but was disappointed to not have the counterpoint, and as I was singing along those bits the karaoke dude handed me the other mic (the shouty blokes lyrics are very easy to remember). I think it is up there with one of my favourite random karaoke experiences as I have a voice which fits shouty bloke very well.

    Evanescence supplied quite a few hastily applied tracks to the Ben Affleck’s chin starring Daredevil movie which makes that film even gothier than you expect if you catch chunks of it now.

  12. 12
    LondonKdS on 21 Jan 2020 #

    “This groundswell of fandom were mostly young, mostly women, often queer”.
    You bet. I remember how in media fandom in 2003-4 this was used so frequently as the soundtrack for relationship-focussed fanvids that it quickly became a cliche, first joked about then pretty much banned by the community.

  13. 13
    James BC on 21 Jan 2020 #

    I didn’t know they guy wasn’t in the band, but his vocals definitely add something. Good A&R.

    Two voices on a track is more or less the norm now that everything has features, but I’ve always been a fan of groups with two vocalists: Alphabeat, Madness, Gomez, the Twang, Hot Chip. Obviously the Beatles, although they didn’t tend to use the tactic of alternating leads on one song, interestingly.

    Back to Evanescence, I’m surprised no one’s mentioned Meat Loaf yet. Dramatically orchestrated rock, life and death emotional situations, even an IWDALF(BIWDT)-like duet bit – it seems the British public craves this stuff roughly once a decade. Not sure what the 2010s version would be. Perhaps it’s too much of a stretch to suggest a certain theatrically costumed female solo singer?

    6 is a bit low for such a memorable track that would stand out in any era. 7 or 8 for me.

  14. 14
    ThePensmith on 21 Jan 2020 #

    #10 – to be fair mozzarella sticks are alluring usually (fried cheese, what’s not to love). Just not in the context of people being led to believe Kelly Rowland gets lunch from there.

  15. 15
    Shiny Dave on 22 Jan 2020 #

    I was on board, at least partly, with the nu-metal train at this point – mostly by accident, my trip to sixth form involved getting the coach from the next town and there was a nu-metal fan with his Creative MP3 player filled with it. Pretty sure “Bring Me To Life” was there that summer, although the memories are all really from earlier and from Linkin Park. And Avril Lavigne.

    I don’t know how much overlap Linkin Park and Avril Lavigne truly had in fanbase, but I bet that overlap absolutely loved Evanescence. I distrusted them, at first – I’d heard they were Christian rockers and treated that weirdly warily, 2003 was my year of socialist discovery and I was piecing a lot of things together awkwardly in that phase. (We’re still five bunnies away from the obvious entry for discussing this, though.)

    But I was always keen on instant pop that slammed big melodies in your face and did it slickly, and this is most certainly that, whatever context it had or didn’t. It sounded like a song with hidden depths, and it was one, but above all it was that. That immediacy was why it spent four weeks at number one, and one look at the songs it held up makes it impossible to argue it was undeserved.

    Maybe its darkness resonated with me in 2003 – we’re already some way past the last year I didn’t experience suicidal ideation, and this period was one of its peaks, as school got weirdly messy in a hideously complicated way. But even with that context, and the fact I’d gone all-in on “real music with real instruments” at this point (I was certainly adjacent to the crowd #5 refers to!), it’s the impact as pop that won me over then, and it’s the impact as pop that wins me over now.

    8.

  16. 16
    Tommy Mack on 22 Jan 2020 #

    #14 I’ve had the McDonald’s Mozzarella sticks and they’re grim. Or maybe it was Burger King.

  17. 17
    Lee Saunders on 23 Jan 2020 #

    I love them both :(

  18. 18
    PapaT on 23 Jan 2020 #

    I never disliked this exactly, but I’m always a bit taken aback by the number of “I only like reaaaaaaal music” types I’ve met over the course of my life who are Evanescence fans, as much as Amy Lee was (and presumably still is) a talented and very intriguing performer there was always something very unconvincing about them. Very silly too, but what rock or pop music isn’t if you’re not into it? I guess nostalgia now plays a part for many of their fans.

    I had no idea that they were sometimes labelled a Christian act, but it makes sense, and actually makes them seem a little more sincere. There was a wave of popular (at least in America) “are/they aren’t they a Christian band” acts at the time; Creed, Switchfoot, I guess even the newly sincere again (and friendly with W) U2 could fit into this pattern, plus actual Christian acts that tried to or just happened to crossover like P.O.D., Stacie Orrico and Mary Mary. Probably coincidental, but it sort of reflected and represented the supposed “conservative (and Christian) youth counterculture” Rod Dreher and others hoped was a thing in America at the time.

    On a similar(ish) tip RE: Fast Food Rockers, today I suspect the Mail would be talking about a PC Brigade and/or nanny state trying take away kids’ fast food fun. The early 00s don’t seem like long ago, until they do.

  19. 19
    Phil on 24 Jan 2020 #

    Following up to myself @4…

    “a sexualised reading of an encounter with the divine – and/or a divinised(?) reading of a sexual encounter”

    See also (thread tie-in!) this recent comment on “Name of the Game”

    “my insight of the day is that ive just learnt that throughout the song the singer is addressing a psychotherapist”

    Blimey. (On re-reading, the lyrics check out.) Not an encounter with the divine, but big stuff all the same – as anyone who’s ever experienced transference, or been in therapy, can confirm. Which may explain the power of the song. I sang it once on home karaoke; I choked up around about “bashful child” and couldn’t get the next bit out at all.

    So if that’s the kind of thing you young folk are getting out of these Effervescence characters, I say they’re a jolly good thing.

  20. 20
    lonepilgrim on 26 Jan 2020 #

    This does sound vaguely familiar so I must have heard it at some point but it feels so relentless, with everything cranked up to eleven, that I find little reason to connect. The video seems to reference Edward Hopper and Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last so points to the art director

  21. 21
    AMZ1981 on 31 Jan 2020 #

    This seemed to come from nowhere. The Fallen album had already topped the charts before the lead single came out and yet despite the handicap of the parent album being available (by now we’ve reached the point where a single cost you £3.99 when you could pick up the album for £9.99) this single not only topped the charts but held the top for a whole month. I have to admit that I’m not sure what made this particular track stand out so much in 2003 and I’m still not sure now.

    With hindsight there might have been a bit of a sea change in rock music happening that we didn’t notice at the time. Bring Me To Life could perhaps be the missing link between the bone headed Rollin’ and a 2006 bunny that stands as one of the greatest chart toppers of them all (and possibly the greatest ever). But I get ahead of myself.

    In 2003 my musical tastes were still stuck slightly post Britpop and with hindsight I’m embarrassed about some of the beige stuff I wasted my twenties on. Bring Me To My Life left me slightly cold at the time but perhaps I should revisit the album.

  22. 22
    Lee Saunders on 31 Jan 2020 #

    Surprising that the album got to #1 before the song. Reminds me how surprised I was to learn in retrospect that Permission to Land reached the top seemingly off the back of its pre-I Believe in a Thing Called Love singles.

  23. 23
    PapaT on 1 Feb 2020 #

    My memory is that Permission to Land got a big pre-Love boost from an awards ceremony. Looking it up dates wise that would have had to have been the Kerrang awards and I’m not sure my theory is quite borne out, but I do remember IBIATCL felt more like a victory lap than a breakthrough when it bit the charts. (Not that I was ever really a fan, although I felt a bit sorry for them when everyone pretended they never liked them by the half-way point of the promotional cycle for their second album)

  24. 24
    Matthew Marcus on 25 Feb 2020 #

    This was the first song that my preteen daughter latched onto as something truly great and meaningful to her, so it’s got to have plenty going for it. (The fact that she probably only found it while searching for the unrelated Minecraft YouTuber Amy Lee is neither here nor there.)

  25. 25
    Stephen Emmett on 17 May 2020 #

    As if I didn’t need to explain this one much…

    This just reminds me of that terribly forgettable Marvel film which does have an awesome soundtrack, Daredevil (although it may be corny, it’s decent). But the track itself – rather broody, compelling and badass in all its glory and gore, this track may make you wonder “huh, why is an emo song at Number One in the UK singles chart?” The answer is “because pure alt-rock fans and alienated teenagers love this shit”.

    You can clearly tell that Kate Bush and Linkin Park are among the influences on this band’s big hit single, but I do think that their December Top 10 hit “My Immortal” (off the same “Fallen” album as this chart-topper) is rather bittersweet, knowing that we are about to reach the end of a golden era in rare rock chart-toppers that began with “Inside” by Stiltskin in 1994.

    But yet, there is a bit of influence in some of the darker themes from this band… fellow emo contemporaries like My Chemical Romance (who we will meet in an epic, yet awesome 2006 bunny in the not-too-distant-future) were sharing up emo playlists with this chart-topper, easily making this chart-topper a possible candidate to “Greatest Emo/Pop Punk” playlists in the future.

    The record itself… anyway, I’d give it a 10 out of 10. A massive 11 if I could. Easily the best chart-topper of 2003. But the track that joint matches it would come in Christmas ’03…

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