Review Summary: Imaginaerum sets itself up for success, but ultimately falls short.Imaginaerum
should have been great. Sharing the same themes as the film of the same name, Imaginaerum
centers around the tale of an old composer reminiscing on his youth as he awaits his imminent death. Through a wildly imaginative journey, Tom (the protagonist) struggles with dementia as he recalls memories from his childhood, but consciousness of his adult-life and all that’s associated with it- his daughter, his friends, his musical journey - is eradicated. In these final moments, his daughter strives desperately to recover his mind. Now, with a concept this open to exploration - one that’s predisposed to be harrowing - Imaginaerum
sets itself up for great success. It’s a concept that centers around the notion of trying to find oneself through an existential form of existence before meeting an inevitable end. So, it’s a little safe to say that while it’s unfair of people to have any preconceived notions as to how this should sound, it’s difficult to not be excited by the overarching possibilities. However, Nightwish’s musical interpretation of this is a complete mess that borders on being overwrought and overdone, resulting in one of, if not the
most frustrating musical venture of 2011.
Now, without meaning to borrow too heavily from the age-old cliche “too much of a good thing can be bad”, it has to be noted that Nightwish cram the songs on Imaginaerum
with too many different elements (metal, pop-rock, Celtic and renaissance themes, folk, etc.) - and at 74 minutes in length, it’s pretty exhausting. And it’s really a shame, because some of Nightwish’s best work is showcased here, but it’s also scattered, resulting in a really disjointed record. The tracks are almost all bloated and overstuffed. “I Want My Tears Back” illustrates this well: the first minute is led with Anette’s angelic vocals before breaking out in an unsuitably bland chorus, and eventually segueing into a fantastically (and surprisingly) fun medieval-esque Celtic pipe solo. But that’s more or less the most blatant detraction: there are gorgeous moments of eclecticism within drab symphonic tracks. It really begs the question: Are these brief moments of sheer brilliance - few and far between - really worth revisiting? “Song of Myself” is probably the most frustrating track on the entire album because of this. The decided ‘epic’ of the record, “Song of Myself” goes on for far too long (13 minutes, to be exact) and comes across as over-the-top in terms of its theatricality, featuring some of the most uninspired and derivative guitar work of Nightwish’s musical career. And the choirs... too often are choirs employed in their songs just because
, and nine times out of ten they sound exactly identical, making their homogeneity come across as gimmicky -- just a device thrown in there to be ‘showy’ and ‘deep’. They service Imaginaerum
in such a way that makes their songs appear feigned. Moderation is key, and it seems to completely elude the band mates this time around.
It’s not even just a result of the songs being bloated that tarnishes the record though. The second track, “Storytime”, sees the band on the cusp of mainstream pop - which isn’t necessarily brand new terrain for them, but never before have they sounded so uninspired and removed from the creative process (ironic, because they should be more on the ball now than ever before). Tuomas Holopainen’s commentary on some of the tracks on the record also make one wonder how knowledgeable he is of the music he’s helping to produce. According to him, “Rest Calm” is a ‘heavy’ track that pays homage to doom metal bands like ‘My Dying Bride’ and gets ‘totally out of hand at the end’ (it doesn’t). Still, if all of this sounds a little scathing, it isn’t really meant to. The tracks aren’t very enjoyable to listen to, but they aren’t off-putting to the extent of hatred; rather, they’re difficult to listen to because Tuomas Holopainen and co. are obviously squandering brilliance. The vast majority of it works to no avail and comes across as disingenuous -- but more than that, it’s maddeningly frustrating to hear these glimmers of brilliance quickly fleet. The only time the album reaches glorious heights is on the poorly titled “Turn Loose the Mermaids”, where Anette Olzon lends her voice beautifully to a Celtic ballad. As a matter of fact, Olzon’s voice is probably the most consistently enjoyable aspect of Imaginaerum
is in a league of its own when the quirks come to the surface. The bar-like folksy pipe and guitar combination in the Celtic “I Want My Tears Back”, the lovely spoken word excerpt that borrows from Walt Whitman’s poem of the same name on “ Song of Myself”, and the instrumental conclusion, “Imaginaerum”, which utilizes a 56-piece orchestral ensemble, all add enjoyable quirks to the overall product. However, too often the songs are marred by their somewhat aimless directions and melodrama, and these stand-alone moments aren’t enough in their own right to save Imaginaerum
from being a mostly tepid and disjointed album. Given the right attention to detail, Imaginaerum
could have been a masterpiece, but alas, it wasn’t meant to be.