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Tuomas Holopainen: The Life and Times of Scrooge
Nightwish is one of those instantly recognizable groups, though maybe not as much since Tarja Turunen was fired from their ranks. Since then the band had been branching out more and experimenting with both their musical talents, as well as their success. There has also been additional drama following the firing of Tarja’s replacement, Anette Olzon, back in 2012. During this time period they wrote and performed their first feature film Imaginaerum in 2011. Outside that and the Imaginaerum film soundtrack prior to the it’s silver screen debut, there hasn’t been much activity in the Nightwish camp since the announcement of their third vocalist, Floor Jansen of ReVamp and After Forever fame. But, for 2014, keyboardist Tuomas Holopainen presents a new solo conceptual album titled Music Inspired by the Life and Times of Scrooge – Written and Produced by Tuomas Holopainen (or just The Life and Times of Scrooge for short).

If you had watched any of the short videos and trailers that Tuomas and Nuclear Blast Records have issued, a few things stand out immediately. First of all, this isn’t an original idea from Tuomas himself. The Life and Times of Scrooge is based on a two hundred and twelve page comic book of the same title that was created by Don Rosa. The other is that this Scrooge character is none other than Scrooge McDuck of the Walt Disney family. The reason for this is because Tuomas admits to having read the original material twenty years ago and fell in love with it, a passion evidenced by this nearly hour long soundtrack, and artwork by Don Rosa himself.

Now, if you didn’t get the idea from the extended title of the album, The Life and Times of Scrooge is essentially just the music. Yes, a few tracks do feature limited singing and spoken word narrative, but for the most part it’s an orchestral score to accomodate the original book. This means if you haven’t read it, chances are pretty good you’re not going to fully grasp or appreciate what Tuomas is trying to do. And sadly, I’m one of those people. In fact I didn’t even know that the Scrooge McDuck character existed before the Ducktales animated series, let alone since appearing in an issue of Four Colour from Dell Comics back in 1947.

As an outsider looking in, it’s obvious that I couldn’t write a fair and balanced review of this release without reading the comic. And since physical copies are selling anywhere between one to two hundred US dollars, sometimes even higher, it’s pretty clear I won’t be reading it any time soon unless I cave and download a pdf file of it somewhere on-line, which just isn’t my thing. So, the best I can do is talk about this album at face value, especially for those who may go into this expecting something a little different than what it actually is like I did based on the single “A Lifetime of Adventure,” which is really the only actual traditional song on the release that sounds more like a montage Scrooge building his wealth through all the various adventures he went on.

As stated, this really doesn’t have a lot of vocal work in it. The Life and Times of Scrooge really focuses in on the atmosphere and the settings laid out in the comic more so than dialogue or the character development those who read the publication will already be familiar with. This leaves those who haven’t at a great disadvantage, especially in the first fifteen minutes. Outside some narration in “Glasgow 1877,” this album starts off as if sitting through an over-extended introductory credit sequence, like a production team’s portfolio of various opening cinematics and orchestral scores they had used in differing big budget fantasy blockbusters. It takes forever for the music itself to really take off, though it seems (through general research) there’s more action going on in the first song alone in story form than there is in the first three songs of this recording.

Thankfully that opening credit sensation actually does die out by “Dreamtime.” This leads to some richer, more engaging performances that clearly give off some kind of emotion that best fits the story that might be given away through the brief singing or narration, or not at all. “Goodbye, Papa” is a truly moving experience with some background choir harmonizations that sound inspiring at first, but gradually become more depressing, triggering a switch one could imagine being a sudden jump from childhood to manhood against one’s will, which is also kind of indicated in the title.

“Dreamtime” does start introducing more vocals and narration, and it does help to at least set the stage for those listening who are unfamiliar with what the music is meant to capture. Again, the performances are rather short, but all the singers really do a fantastic job, especially the female leads. The narration, however, leaves a little to be desired. Yes it expands on things a bit, but it seems the last sentence or two of dialogue is reiterated by the female singing literally one line later, making some of it rather redundant. When left just to the singing, it feels like a far more natural progression, such as with “To Be Rich,” allowing the simple lyrics (and background harmonizations that sound fantastic until that final cringe worthy note that hits at the end of each one for some reason) to further paint the picture of a dream that seems so far out of reach, but ending upon the joys of wonder as to what that dream might become later in life, or if it may still come true.

While The Life and Times of Scrooge seems like a good album for what it is, it takes a good fifteen minutes to actually get going, and is far from an impressive composition as it stands by itself. This is an experience you are going to need the source material in order to fully embrace, and if you haven’t read it you’re just holding on to decent performances that don’t always offer the most variety from one track to the next with the exception of a few later compositions that pack a good deal of emotion into the mix. It’s too bad that this is based on the Disney character of Scrooge McDuck, as having a reprint of the original tale this is based off of accompany the album would be a nice touch, but obviously will never happen. In fact I’m still surprised this album made it this far without Disney wanting royalties or some kind, or just demanding a total cease and desist. Hopefully the booklet at least comes with liner notes so you get the general idea of what’s going on in each song because, going in blind like I did, I found myself not really enjoying most of the release, or even really remembering the material after a good couple of spins. In fact it wasn’t until “The Last Sled” that I started even remotely getting into this release.

Of course, there’s always that other possibility that it might not be too complimented by the book. While I haven’t read the original comic, the music really didn’t speak much to me overall, and even then the impact from those that did was kind of minimal. I can’t say for sure whether knowing the premise for each song will help you to understand the mood or point and drive the song home even more than if you go in blind, but it certainly can’t hurt to have some background knowledge, or the source material in hand with this release playing in the background as you read it once more.

Tuomas Holopainen

Digital review copy of this release provided by Nuclear Blast Records.