|Zarkana cover art (Source: Amazon.com)|
Zarkana is poorly composed and extremely over-produced. Songs amble around with no discernible melody or development, and many that do have those elements have been extremely compromised in losing their dramatic intensity and vibrancy during the transfer from live production to this recording. Too many songs develop a fine structure then have elements added seemingly from random, from improvisations of instruments disrupting the flow to elecronica breakdowns. It's frustrating since several of their live counterparts are impeccable - here they are awkward, jarring, and nothing special. Like previous Cirque recordings that have aimed to be considered heavy rock, Zarkana's instrumentation lacks the edge and rawness that so many great rock albums have - it's too dreamy and synth heavy, and too psychedelic to be taken seriously. The concept of this recording isn't really realised, and majority of the content isn't anything interesting.
Still, it's dependable on a Cirque du Soleil record that there is always at least a handful of interesting songs. 'Zarwaq' is a unique splice of tribal chanting and percussive beats, with unfortunate interjections of synthesisers, whereas 'Asteraw' feels diluted from an array of twinkly effects and random interjections, but has a vibrant and memorable melody. The mystique of 'Rae' is ruined by a bizarre spoken word interval and omission of the stunning bugle horn, but otherwise is an entrancing amalgam of voice and piano. The jewel of the album is 'Eridanus', which has an infectious chorus, and unlike most of the record has amazing mixing with exceptional clarity. It's an excellent song and shows that Cirque du Soleil's repertoire is still expanding and conquering new genres.
The remainder of the album variates between remarkably beige ('Tourago/Guiram', 'Gienah'), to embarrassingly weird ('Tarienter/The Archer', 'Crysococca') to horrifyingly bad ('Caph', 'Jarseate'). It's a painful reminder that Cirque kicked artistic excellence out of it's view long ago and are primarily interested in settling for the average.
Seeing as Zarkana was originally conceived as a rock opera on Broadway, this is probably the one time where it would have been acceptable for a release with English lyrics. Instead, we are left with imaginary lyrics that seem to be an after-thought of a scrambled attempt to change Zarkana's image. The result is a horrible mishmash of sloppy pseudo-English vowels with no apparent rhyme or structure, sometimes with an odd English lyric thrown in. The record is sprinkled with unpronounceable and upsettingly random titles that are all kinds of crazy ('Caph', 'Crysococca', 'Zawraq').
The recording of Zarkana isn't great. The mixing and production is fairly poor, the majority of the songs are unappealing, and . There are some likeable tracks, but the majority of the album isn't worth a recommendation. Overall I'd recommend just purchasing 'Eridanus' on iTunes and giving the rest of the album a miss.
Cirque du Soleil 'Zarkana' is available from their online boutqiue and on Amazon.com. Available on physical CD and digital download. Preview the entire album for free on Cirque du Soleil's Zarkana official website.