Wednesday 19 April 2023

Floor Jansen - Paragon (2023)

Country: The Netherlands
Style: Pop/Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 24 Mar 2023
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I'm not sure what country to list here, given that Floor Jansen is Dutch, lives in Sweden and fronts a Finnish band. This is a solo project though, so I guess I'll go with the Netherlands. It's her first of likely many and it isn't surprising to see its release, given how much publicity she got from singing on a Dutch singing show, Beste Zangers, with most of the songs she sang, in a wide variety of styles and languages, going viral on YouTube. She's been touring solo as well and clearly relishing being able to sing a wider range of material than she can in Nightwish. So this was inevitable.

From the outset, it's as much pop as it is rock, but it ought to play well to both audiences. This isn't as soft as, say, Mike Tramp's For Første Gang album last year, but it features plenty of ballads. The approach seems to be to trawl in some of both sides of the pop/rock boundary on as many songs as possible. My Paragon, for instance, kicks off the album with a poppy bounce but rock drums. When Floor needs to soar, Floor soars and she has such power to bring to bear that that always becomes rock, even on a pop song. Hope is an intimate ballad but it isn't soft, even without drums.

All that said, it's fun trying to think who might have sung these songs if Floor wasn't around. They aren't covers, but they all could be if other artists feel an urge to tackle them. I could hear Carole King singing Hope and a few wildly different singers taking on Come Full Circle. Would Irene Cara do a better job than Meat Loaf? Storm would go to Billie Eilish without any doubt. Some would be difficult to cover, because of Floor's range. She goes low on Me without You but she soars later on, so it would take someone with the vocal chops of Lara Fabian.

And, of course, that's much of the point of this album. Nightwish are a symphonic metal band, the flagship band in the genre, and there's always a lot going on in Nightwish songs, even if you ditch the orchestration angle. I wouldn't say that Floor has to battle to be heard in Nightwish, because her voice leads the way, but she's one of many talented musicians in that band, all of whom shine because Tuomas Holopainen writes music that gives all of them opportunity to do so and they all have the chops to meet the challenge. Here, it's all about her and her voice.

Probably the biggest reason for it being a success is that she never seems like she's showing off on any of these songs, even though she absolutely is. She dials it down so that she can ramp it up and she's impeccable with both of those approaches. I don't know who performs behind her here, but I would call them thoroughly capable but eager not to steal the spotlight. The result is that I would be surprised if some of these songs—and it could be any of them—start to show up on vocal talent shows, with ambitious contestants adding what Floor thankfully doesn't: an intricate R&B run here and an octave leap there just to impress the judges.

The one they might pick first is Fire, which is an especially strong closer. Floor initially plays it soft, with piano accompaniment, but there's orchestration and a dynamic beat hinting at where she'll take it and, damn, she takes it further than anyone who hasn't experienced Floorgasms is likely to expect. There are moments when she explodes into power and the band joins her and it's moments like those that have judges on their feet applauding with their mouths open. Of course, anyone on one of those shows who can do it justice deserves that response, but they'll have to be damn good to take it beyond Floor. As we might expect. I mean, c'mon.

What's telling is that this is the sort of album that I'm not likely to like. It's far from as varied as it could be, as anyone who's watched all her Beste Zangers songs will know. She only sings in English here, for a start. There are so many directions she could have taken this, but she chose to go for a pretty consistent and relatively straightforward pop/rock approach, but it wasn't to be safe. It's a sort of establishing shot, I think. Here's what she can do when doing what other singers with huge voices do.

What I think it might be is the establishment of a baseline in a studio setting for listeners who are not metal fans and may not know what Floor can do. Now this is out there, she can go beyond it. It isn't a bad album at all. I liked every song here but what I want to hear is the next album that will mix it up and test some of her limits. After all, when it comes to Floor Jansen, those limits are way beyond what most singers would consider. How far is debatable, of course, because I don't believe that she's reached them yet, but those who want that variety will need to go to Beste Zangers for some answers rather than here.

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