Tarja - In the Raw

Tarja In the Raw cover
In the Raw
The fifth “proper” studio album, which is not classics re-recorded or seasonal inspired, for the well-known and much adored Finnish rock diva, has just been released and like her most recent output that seems to follow perfectly executed titles, it fails to make any significant dent. Her most significant problem seems to be trying to write modern rock & metal. She doesn’t exactly have a natural calling for it and it shows… in Nightwish she had songs prepared for her with a very clear vision, from a guy that could write well (Tuomas Holopainen), within a rather cohesive band.
Without them, she struggled choosing the safe avenue of releasing first a Christmas album (She did another one), as well as a couple album where she was trying to mimic that power metal/operatic style without great success, which led her and the band of musicians around her, to attempt a foray into a more modern, almost pop/rock direction, which however seems to be plagued by preconceptions of how she should sound carried over from her Nightwish days.
“Dead Promises”, where Bjorn “Speed” Strid (Soilwork) guests, seems to have these unnecessary “introductory” ah’s and oooh’s, which sound very operatic, while the song is a pretty much riff driven rock affair. Its “Therion” like melodies would have been finely interpreted by orchestration, not vocals. The overall combination of vocals and the catchy chorus aid the song, but I think it’s time to ditch – the pseudo – operatic element, unless the songs specifically cater for that.
“Goodbye Stranger” has Cristina Scabbia of Lacuna Coil guesting, a lady that’s been able to make the transaction from an early classic style to modern rock quite successfully and here is featured quite prominently. Tarja shadows her on the verses and comes forward for the chorus in a track that seems to be heavy and probably influenced by the Italians up to a point (the chorus – it’s another story). It feels a lot more natural and organic than what it would have been with a ton of choral parts where none were necessary.
“Tears in the Rain” is quite a nice mid-tempo song, with copious amounts of melody, only somewhat plagued by the tendency of Tarja as a soprano to go for where she feels more comfortable. While she might have improved her initially almost disastrous accent, her vowel sounds still sound some way from being ideal. Still it’s a good soon that could have done without those prominent adlibs, too.
“Railroads” is exactly what Tarja should be aiming for. Rather stripped back and instrumentally mixed with a view to have her vocals as a main attraction, it feels a lot more “organic” when it comes to her voice. Is it rock or metal? No, not exactly and managing to re-introduce her to a different genre of listeners might be a difficult task, but one that I am afraid she’ll have to undergo if she doesn’t want to remain consigned to the second tier of acts forever after (also there’s a certain a certain pattern repeated, that we’d “better” leave it be)…
“You and I” remains in the realm of melancholic balladry. It’s not bad, but while a ballad means to be very emotive and usually even vulnerable, this piano-strings arrangement doesn’t quite fall in that category, but at it least is, what seems to work better for TC.
“The Golden Chamber: Awaken / Loputon Yö / The Alchemy” is a seven minute mini suite that sees Tarja initially vocalizing, before it goes through an almost soundtrack like section, with operatic wails, which signify the only “lyrical” song in here “Loputon Yö” sung in Finnish that is then followed by some great orchestral overtures that intertwine with some more wailing vocalisms.
“Spirits of the Sea” is a slow, percussive number that’s both melancholic, heavy and almost exotic in places… it’s nice to see the wish to experiment, even if it doesn’t exactly seem to work out that great… it feels somewhat inspired, by the most introspective moments of Angra, if someone dropped speeds to almost doom levels.
“Silent Masquerade”, featuring Tommy Karevik (Kamelot, Seventh Wonder), doesn’t exactly go back to the rock/metal canon not until past it’s middle at least, but with Kaverik’s input it manages to keep some pop/rock semblance for a while, before an eerie middle section with wails of “pain” seem to transform it into something that might have almost worked for Kamelot – a band that might also want to take a couple of chances in updating its rather stagnant style.
“Serene” actually has some brilliant melodic lines, but as it tries to fuse all the elements that Tarja uses in her songs almost adjacently, feels a little disjointed. Again the operatic emphasis during the chorus feels artificial and disruptive. The solo that ensues is definitely quite interesting, more from a point of musicality, than actual difficulty. The basis of a great music theater/soundtrack like song, dwells in sperm form in this song, but is not anywhere as developed as it should have been.
“Shadow Play” almost gets the style TC is going for, right at first, but it’s flow is disrupted by the choral parts, which might seem like an obvious and easy resolution and then has most of its dynamics sucked out of it, by its very flat middle. The chorus returns awkwardly for the conclusion, in an uneven conclusion to the song and album…
While theoretically the further she would get from Nightwish, the more into a career of her own she should blossom in, Tarja seems unable to either recapture the same vibe as she had with them or at least transition into proper pop. And her rock/metal efforts sound better when they are as far removed from the genre as possible. It’s a tough decision, but imho, she should either consider moving on to proper pop territory, otherwise she’s highly unlikely to ever escape the second tier she’s been consigned in, since going solo. While “In the Raw” is probably one of her more wholesome and complete solo efforts, it’s too little and too late to make any difference career wise.