When Tarja Turunen took her larger-than-life operatic talents out of Nightwish and off to South Beach, she and her former band-mates engaged in enough back-biting and insults to fill an entire season of a Mexican soap opera (and a few Mexican wrestling matches as well). When all the bickering was done, Nightwish acquired Anette Olzon and soldiered on as Tarja began her solo career in earnest. While Nightwish has fared respectably with a few decent albums under their belt in the post-Tarja era, Tarja‘s solo outings have ranged from average to rather bad. Her voice remains a powerful and impressive tool, But she’s really struggled as a song-writer and a lot of her compositions strive for a blend of symphonic rock and goth metal that never quite gels. I heard slight improvement on 2010s What Lies Beneath, but it was nothing I needed to hear again and the album was quickly forgotten. Now she’s back with her third outing, Colours in the Dark (technically her fourth since she released a solo album whilst still in Nightwish), and it’s a mixed bag of cats. There are songs that work fairly well and a few that actually rock, but the song-writing is still very uneven and spotty. However, you can almost always count on Tarja to over-sing everything and her commitment to bombast makes things interesting and sometimes unintentionally hilarious. The best stuff is that closest to Nightwish and I’m not sure that’s a good thing.
Things open positively with the oversized Nightwish-esque, epic pomp of “Victim of Ritual” where Tarja goes Full Diva (you never go full diva!!) with way over-dramatic singing as she rolls every hard R she can find. If you can imagine Nicholas Cage as an opera singer, she sounds exactly like that, but the song is oddly fun and works in a goofy, endearing way. “500 Letters” is essentially a simple rock song that Heart could have written in 1983, but blown up by operatic fetishism and unrestrained enthusiasm. When Tarja sings the pop rock chorus like it’s Nessun Dorma, you’ll roll your eyes and laugh since it’s the aural equivalent of hunting quail with field artillery. Then you realize the song is stuck in your head like a goddamn pitchfork and Tarja has the last laugh. Tunes like “Lucid Dreamer” and “Deliverance” try to mine the same vein that Nightwish did with “Nemo” and both are decent, if a bit too lazy and sedate.
Also respectable, but on the dull side are tracks like “Mystique Voyage” and “Darkness,” where Tarja goes for mood and angst. “Medusa”, the lengthy closing track has a more attention-grabbing and ominous feel and Tarja is paired with Justin Furstenfeld (Blue October). It’s an interesting choice since Justin has a very Dave Matthews kind of delivery to counter-point Tarja’s drama queen wails. It works more often than not, though it feels too long.
Things go south with the nu-metal crunch of “Never Enough” which suffers from annoyingly overwrought vocals and a generic, phoned-in feel. “Neverlight” sounds like unused, watered-down Korn songs with Tarja going big on the opera over chunky, bland riffs. “Until Silence” is a big, sappy ballad loaded with 80s style Euro-pop keys and actually sounds like Erasure wrote it while on a major crying jag. As the song progresses it even starts to sound like the theme to Titanic (near…far…WHEREEVER YOU ARE!!!). Not good.
There’s no denying Tarja has a big voice and that’s the appeal for her fans. She does manage to include nuance on the quieter, moody songs, but regularly overdoes it with the Diva schtick and sometimes it works, sometimes it totally doesn’t. A big issue here is the way the guitars are either muted, non-threatening and buried in the mix, or jacked up and made into nu-metal parodies. I get that this isn’t meant to be all that heavy, but the guitars are so often drowned out by the symphonics and the vocals, it makes it feel too soft and weak.
I’m not sure I’ll ever love a Tarja solo outing and I doubt she’ll ever rejoin Nightwish, so I guess I’m stuck. This is her best release as a solo artist, but it isn’t one I’ll be returning to often. If you crave soft, symphonic-laden goth metal with opera vocals, parts of Colours in the Dark will probably appeal to you. If you’re hoping this tops the recent output from her former band, you can forget it. I do love the odd, video-game like cover with Tarja dressed like the dude from Prototype.