Song of the Decade: The Greatest Show on Earth

Between one or the other post, I am going to be adding reflections I have on absolute standout achievements of humankind during the 2010s. Keep in mind, I am not compiling a “Top N” list, but rather reminiscing on different moments throughout the decade that surprised and amazed me. Should a category not have provided me with one of these moments, it is also not worth a mention. Due to my rather unconventional taste in art-dorms, I kindly ask you to, at least, give it a listen, or a view, even if the style is not your first choice. First up, song of the decade.

Onto my first highlight, there is one song that has stuck with me longer than any other (also because of it’s insane length) and that is Nightwish’s mind-boggling and, at first stance presumptuous “Greatest Show on Earth”. Written by Tuomas Holopainen, him finally taking full advantage of Floor Jansen’s spectacular vocal range for the album “Endless Forms Most Beautiful”.

Before I go into why the song has stuck with me for so long, I think I do it a disservice by not giving you some context first, especially if you don’t know anything about Nightwish. It’s not a history lesson, but rather an explanation as to why these people are on stage the way they are.

You see, Nightwish got my attention in the 90s because of a very unique Unique Selling Proposition: they were a metal band with a classically trained, soprano opera lead singer, called Tarja Turunen. While this was their calling card, I now realize that even then Holopainen’s compositions were varied, experimental and very rich in sound. But it was Tarja that made it extra-special.

After a short scuffle, Tarja quit the band (or “was kindly invited to quit” as some rumors put it), at a time that I wasn’t even paying attention to the them anymore. But something unique happened to the band during this time: Turunen’s successor Anette Olzon had some health problems, amidst an already failing relationship to other members of the band, during their USA tour and Floor Jansen was invited to replace her for a few concerts. She literally had to learn the setlist in 48 hours and left such an amazing impression, that she was hired as Olzon’s permanent replacement at the end of the tour. The impression she made is most evident in a concert in Buenos Aires in 2012 (the last one of Jansen’s tour as a replacement, before her permanent hiring), where guitarist Emppu Vuorinen looks to the sky during the last chorus: after years of knowing that his childhood friend Tuomas was incapable of flexing his muscles as a composer, they were finally at a point where they could enjoy their music again.

The moment Emppu Vuorinen knew they needed to hire Floor Jansen (click to see the video)

Years pass, Jansen tours the world and the colossal “The Greatest Show on Earth” is released. To take it out of the way: the title does not refer to the song itself or to a Nightwish concert, but rather about life itself being the greatest show on earth. The concept of evolution, the fact that we take the fact that we are allowed to live for granted, humankind’s hunger to explore the unknown are all elaborated during the song’s 24 or so minutes.

And it all culminates in a gargantuan undertaking, a magestic piece of music that transcends styles and genres by exploring the subject of evolution in itself being a progressive, evolving journey. Seriously, name a song that, in about ten seconds, goes through the Gregorian chant in Dies Irae (Mozart), Bach’s Minuet in G Major followed by his famous Fugue in D Minor, followed by Metallica’s Enter Sandman riff (!!!), finally ending in Rap/Hip-Hop and 90s dance music… WHAT? Yes, that is the summary of a segment called “The Toolmaker” in which Holopainen gives us a brief lesson in the evolution of music… AND IT’S INSANE!

I could try to contain my excitement, but the part that made this piece of music stick with me during the second half of the 2010s comes right after that. After evolving, progressing, going from keyboards to bag-pipes and apparently exhausting Floor Jansen’s energy, the woman kindly asks the audience if they want to sing along. Pictures of random people start flashing on the screen, the lucky ones who were given the spark of life…

WE WERE HERE!

As Floor Jansen, bassist Marco Hietala and thousands of Finnish audience-members scream these words at the top of their lungs, it all comes together somehow. All of the “acts” that came before it, Holopainen’s evolving skill as a composer, the band’s ever improving musical prowess and the culmination of literally decades of work echo in these three words.

And somehow I just feel like closing my eyes, breathing in and daydreaming about the kind of vibrant energy that it must have been to see that live. So please, before you scoff at the fact that “it is metal and you don’t like it”, or you are a fan of metal but “Nightwish is too mainstream” or if you find any other reason not to see the video or listen to the song (if you do, listen to it live), indulge me.

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