Former Nightwish singer Tarja Turunen will release her fourth full length album “The Shadow Self” on August 5. That’s a line I read not too long ago. Ok. Now, since Tarja’s solo albums has left me cold and very underwhelmed, I took that in but didn’t care to read any info about the album. So, all of sudden, just like the man in the box, a new Tarja record is being released on the 3rd of June. Ok, now what? Also, it had the wrong title. Hmm, something fishy was up. I mean, release dates are being put back all the time, but I have never heard of a record that is being released before its release date. Of course, this wass not that album – just a little taster of what’s to come. See, Mrs Turunen has done things the other way around – instead of releasing the leftovers a few months or so after the main album is put out, she released those songs before it. Maybe that is a smart move, time will tell. When it comes to Tarja’s music, I think that her two first albums were horrible – no songs that stuck, no cool arrangements, only Tarja’s soprano voice that was all over the place. Norwegian singer Jorn Lande really showed us what was wrong when he covered Tarja’s “I Walk Alone” (My Winter Storm, 2007) and turned an uneven and indifferent song into a full-blown killer! She also managed to completely ruin Alice Cooper’s “Poison” and Whitensnake’s “Still Of The Night” in horrific cover versions on those albums. That’s when I decided that I would care no more about Tarja’s solo career – her former band Nightwish had won by large. But something in me wanted to give her just another shot so I decided to check out her third album Colours In The Dark (2013) and lo and behold, it was a really big leap forward. Everything had progressed and even though the record still was somewhat uneven with too many fillers, at least it breathed some hope into her career. Even though this little surprise shouldn’t be seen as a “real” album, it’s sure interesting to hear if Tarja and her band had kept progressing or if the last album was just a lucky shot.
The record kicks off with “No Bitter End”, a full-blown riff monster with a calmer verse melody and chorus so sticky you could put up wall paper with it. Well, hello Tarja! I’m actually stunned because this tune is bloody awesome. “I’ve got nothing left to prove…”, she sings, but well, you actually have, Tarja, and you’re proving it right now. Unfortunately, the joy doesn’t last long as the following track “Your Heaven And Your Hell” proves to be not all that. It’s not a bad song per se, it’s just that this kind of music really don’t suit her voice one bit. See, this is an attitude driven and punky hard rocker that features fellow Fin, ex- Hanoi Rock Michael Monroe whom she duets with here. When Michael sings alone it’s fine, but when Tarja’s voice kicks in, it feel like they’re singing different tunes. However, the middle-break that slows things down and goes into a jazzy piano bar mood with a cool saxophone solo from Monroe is killer. Nope, this is a Michael Monroe tune, not a Tarja one. “Eagle Eye” is a ballad, a really powerful one. The melody gets right under my skin and the whole thing is very memorable and catchy. But it’s a bit strange to have such a groovy drummer like Chad Smith to guest on a ballad. I would have prefered him on a more uptempo and swinging tune. Tarja and her band stays on the slow path with the dark and atmospheric “An Empty Dream”. The song fits Tarja’s voice perfectly and is one of this record’s true winners – great. “Witch Hunt” is another slow one, it has this dreamy kind of sound scape with a somewhat gothic touch. Even though it’s a good song, I can’t seem to grasp it, it kinda goes in one ear and out the other. Maybe it’s a grower but for now it’s one of the weaker songs. With “Shameless”, Tarja takes a more straight forward hard rock route and all would be well here if the contrast between the hard rock arrangement and Tarja’s soprano voice wasn’t so big – too big. It doesn’t work all the way and the song would have benefitted from Tarja singing in a lower key. But the song isn’t bad at all. Next one is a cover and as stated before, Tarja has done a few of them with an embarrassing result, but also a good one, Peter Gabriel’s “Darkness”. Still, I did not have high hopes for her version of Paul McCartney’s ballad “House Of Wax”, but lo and behold, she nails it with a very atmospheric arrangement and her voice in perfect pitch, making it sound very beautiful – well done. Next up is the cover of the Shirley Bassey cover of the James Bond theme “Goldfinger”, an odd choice, but I must say that she brought it home. It’s heavier than the original and certainly has a metal touch over it, but at the same time, it’s close to the original, very cinematic – the more things change the more they stay the same, kind of. The album ends with a new mix of the song “Paradise (What About Us)” that was originally on Within Temptation’s last album Hydra (2014), a song Tarja guested on. I really like the song and I think that this is the kind of stuff Tarja should be doing, but I really don’t see the point in putting it one of her own records. It’s a new mix, but it’s still Within Temptation with Tarja guesting and the mix doesn’t bring anything new to the table.
This is a really good little prequel and if these are the songs that got the boot, it sure likes Tarja has something really good up her sleeve for her upcoming new album in August. Nightwish have released three really good albums since Tarja left the band, all three of them better than anything they released with Tarja on vocals, but with this little taster and her forthcoming album, she just might give her old band a run for their money. After her two first albums totally fell flat on the back, she showed that there was hope with this album’s predecessor and this one is proof that she’s about to climb over that fatal wall of mediocrity – and I’m really glad for that because Tarja is far too gifted and talented not to. I’ll be looking forward to see if her new record will keep what this one is promising.
Other Tarja reviews:
1. No Bitter End
2. Your Heaven And Your Hell (feat. Michael Monroe)
3. Eagle Eye (feat. Chad Smith)
4. An Empty Dream
5. Witch Hunt
7. House Of Wax
9. Paradise (What About Us) (New mix of the collaboration with Within Temptation and Tarja)