Forget angels. How many tears fit on a pinhead? Ninety-six, according to the inquisitive ? and the Mysterians, and those who subsequently covered them: Aretha Franklin, Garland Jeffreys, Suicide, the Stranglers, innumerable bar bands. Other cry babes—Justin Timberlake, to name a recent example—settle on that metaphor for the infinite, a “river.” Then there’s Amy Lee. Pop’s latest Queen of the Damned (if by Damned you mean Those Who Hang at Hot Topic, and why wouldn’t you?), the Little Rock 21-year-old plays theologian, claiming in “Going Under” to have shed exactly “50,000” tears “over you.” No, not you. Amy is way out of your league: goth-hot; rich, having sold over a million copies of her band Evanescence’s terrific debut; and, unlike Christina, Christian—i.e., probably not easy.
Which is not to say she’s an angel. Nor her band: Evanescence’s other founder, guitarist Ben Moody (two more members, about as tough to make out as Jesus on a tortilla, appear in the background of the band photo), recently stirred controversy when he used the F-word and took JC’s name in vain in an Entertainment Weekly interview. Luckily, Wal-Mart recently pulled EW from its shelves when the mag ran a racy pic of Condi Rice whispering in GWB’s ear. The chain’s execs therefore never saw the article, and continue pushing Fallen, packaged, as before, with their bestselling Jesus Action Figure With Light-Up E.T. Healing Finger™.
Most Voice readers probably don’t fear God enough to have faith in my Wal-Mart story, so before getting into music-this, let’s address religion-that. As a lapsed Catholic—altar boy until 16, donkey upon whom Mom pinned priest-in-the-family hopes, extravagant sinner who still takes the Eucharist on holidays just so I can get up and stretch my legs, I too am most assuredly “going under,” and unlike Dante, never coming back. So I feel justified in dismissing those of you who think that, thanks to homegrown religious conservatives, we’re going to Hell in a handbasket. OK, not dismissing. I went infidel for more reasons than the burning shame I felt watching Married . . . With Children.
Point is, the sometimes frothing religious river that runs through our country is easy to damn, or at least snarkily refer to as Denial. Spin did it when they filed Evanescence’s fabulous breakthrough single under “Trash”: “Christian alt rock so bombastically Wagnerian it makes Creed sound like a bunch of pansies. Jesus is coming . . . to reclaim his title at Wrestlemania!” Piano tinkles, Lee’s breathless keen, dramatic pauses, guitars like clouds of locusts, 12 Stones singer Paul McCoy’s passing-12-kidney-stones guest vocals: “Bring Me to Life” certainly qualifies as bombastic. But way more than labelmates Creed, the track sounds like church-burning, brain-eating European dark metal. The rest of the disc—granite-heavy, choir-chorused, and marbled with sweet-stringed-but-not-slick-sheened ballads rivaling Christina’s “Beautiful” or Celine Dion—is as consistent as any 2003 album carried (so far) by one single.
Anyone who believes or has believed in a Judeo-Christian God (not all of us have time for yoga) can identify with Lee’s rare pop perspective: that of someone struggling with faith. This is a breakup album—except Amy’s getting emo over Christ Almighty. By banning Maxim and selling generic “Christian” crap, Wal-Mart means not only to homogenize pop culture at large, but pop-religious culture. Lee contemplates the heaven-barring act of suicide in “Tourniquet” and wonders whether she is a self-important, escapist “goddess of imaginary light” in “Imaginary.” Where subcultural walls are erected by the Mighty Mart, this is subversive. Leave it to an angel in the centerfold.