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The Open Door
The dreaded sophomore jinx is bad enough, with most artists failing to meet the expectations, or the sales, of their breakthrough debuts. But the case of Evanescence takes the jinx one step further. No sooner had the goth hard rockers become household names with 2003's Grammy-winning, mega-selling Fallen than half of the group's creative team, guitarist Ben Moody, abruptly left the fold, leaving frontwoman and pianist Amy Lee to hold down the fort.
Moody, responsible for the band's crunching death metal riffs, was seamlessly replaced on tour with Terry Balsamo, but it remained to be seen whether Balsamo could join Lee as part of a songwriting team that could match Fallen hits like "Bring Me to Life" and "My Immortal." While Lee was clearly the voice of the band, it seemed quite possible that Moody had been its soul.
The Open Door proves that you can replicate a previous album's sound without capturing its spirit. The same thudding, processed guitar provides a counterpoint here to Lee's epic piano tinklings and siren-like vocals, but the results sound as predictable as the most programmed of arrangements.
Some songs stand out from the pack, among them the more retro-sounding "Call Me When You're Sober," which succeeds more as an homage to tough "chick" rockers of the past like Pat Benatar and Heart than as something fresh or innovative. The moody piano and strings on closing ballad "Good Enough" provide a much needed change of pace, but the rest of the album is a muddled, nondescript mess that feels almost totally devoid of spark or purpose.
Lee retains her amazing presence and personality, but without Moody's musical feedback, the new Evanescence falls victim to the sophomore jinx.
Another Fine Day
Rootsy supergroup Golden Smog returns for another satisfying, ragged romp through three-chord garage rock, rustic acoustic ballads and spunky power pop on Another Fine Day, the band's newest release.
A loose aggregate of performers known for their work with other music groups, Golden Smog features Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, who's "made it" in the alt-rock genre since Golden Smog released its first album in 1998. But Soul Asylum guitarist Dan Murphy and three former members of the late, great Jayhawks - Marc Perlman, Kraig Jarret Johnson and Gary Louris - haven't exactly been burning up the charts in the last decade.
No matter, because Another Fine Day offers fine work from its contributors. The group's country stylings are mostly muted here to make way for wider musical palette, with whimsical, chugging frat rock pieces "Corvette," "Hurricane" and "Frying Pan Eyes" sitting snugly next to the tender acoustic duets "Long Time Ago" and "Listen Joe." "Listen Joe," listeners will happily note, features the same kind of exquisite harmonies that became a Jayhawks trademark.
The title track, despite being written by Louris and Murphy, has a distinctly melancholy Wilco sound to it, as does the poppy "I Can." And a welcome surprise is a faithfully rendered cover of "Strangers," one of the Kinks more obscure Sixties tunes.
The veterans of Golden Smog have learned their craft well, and they sound like they're still having lots of fun with it on Another Fine Day.
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