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.

Score: 6

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