22 August 2014

Tuomas Holopainen - Music Inspired By The Life And Times Of Scrooge

Usually when a noted band member goes solo, chances are that musically their albums will be a break from the norm and a stark contrast from the usual material we're accustomed to hearing and with Nightwish keyboard player, chief songwriter and co-ordinator Tuomas Holopainen, this is no exception. Having recently completed a hefty Showtime Storytime World Tour with the Finnish symphonic metallers, he has clearly had designs to go off on a little different tangent and produce something a little special.

Holopainen however hasn't completed ditched his connections from his band. First, for the orchestral arrangements, he's retained classical composer and conductor Pip Williams with The London Philharmonic Orchestra at his disposal, and for the Celtic folk pipes and related percussion comes one time Nightwish sessionist and now full time member Troy Donockley. Now the theme for his solo project is a curious one. It's based on the Disney character Scrooge McDuck and the album cover has his image looking out over what I can only guess is the Klondike Mountains at the height of the famed gold rush with a pickaxe in one hand and a sackful of gold nuggets in the other.

Seemingly, this is a musical biopic and in fact, the first couple of tracks almost instantly set the precedent of the album from the word go. Glasgow 1877 has the narrator and subject (Alan Reid) reflecting on his childhood and explaining how his adventures begin in his youth in Scotland, the musical is light orchestral before it fires into grandiosity and pomp, with Donockley on uilleann pipes in the calmer moments. The vocals complement the overture by two Finnish folk vocalists, Johanna Kurkela as "Glittering" Goldie O'Gilt (Scrooge's love interest) and Johanna Iivanainen as his mother singing in largely Scottish Gaelic. Next, it's Into The West as the intrepid McDuck begins his odyssey, brief vocals from Kurkela again, although the momentum now begins to gather pace and is largely dominated by banjo fretwork while harmonica closes the track.

Duel & Cloudscapes continues where its preceding number left off in the same key. Same beat as well, however, it's not for long as the rhythm gathers a little more energy still, with some interesting snippets such as glockenspiel and harp featured leads. Then, another instrumental in Dreamtime, with didgeridoo acoustics starting the ball rolling and Holopainen keywork lending a couple of loops to the orchestral group. It's gentle and just a sprinkle of snow dust, but it's just a touch too long and there's a danger that one loop too many could bring buffers to the proceedings. I admit I had to listen to it three times before I got the cut of the jib. Fortunately, there's more featured guests coming to the foray, on the next track Cold Heart Of The Klondike, is Sonata Arctica vocalist and storyteller Tony Kakko, and more emphatic beats joining right from the beginning. Definitely one of the better tracks so far, and we have been lacking some narrative in the story.

If the music's becoming a bit of a drag, then thankfully the singing is featured much more on The Last Sled, while Alan Reid's narration flowing along well with Miss Kurkela's encouragement to her consort to find "gold in them thar hills". I'm encouraged by the fact that the pedestrian pace of the Scrooge momentum is now picking up, then we come to Goodbye Papa, the one minute Holopainen piano introduction presides over the Metro Voices chorus, and with some Celtic percussion, before returning to the former backdrops. To Be Rich sees the two Johannas Kurkela and Iivanainen prominently featured on this track, but at three at a half minutes, it seems remarkably brief, although next track A Lifetime Of Adventure is a continuing narrative of its predecessor. Then what could be classified as a full on guitars and percussion comes in midway through before Go Slowly Now, Hands Of Time closes the album with Alan Reid and Johanna Kurkela's subtle tones with uilleann pipes trailing off.

Nightwish fans expecting a carbon copy from Tuomas Holopainen should really shun away because you'll just be straining your ears for nothing. It is a heavy listen I will admit and like heavy listening you really need a lot of time for it, and some of the loops are just a little too dragged for me, though thankfully not enough to lose my attention. And yet it feels so ethereally enticing too, so in all beautifully crafted and arranged by our Finnish keyboardist, it kind of reminds me of Tim Burton's take on the Batman franchise. His 1989 film was certainly much darker and without a hint of humour or irony, and this to me has a similar take on it. Mind you, there's not a lot put into the Scrooge McDuck character. And with the emphasis on the music, no bad thing either. Still for Holopainen, it's back to the Nightwish rat race as I understand through my updates that they're currently in the throes of recording album number eight. I await with baited breath...

7 out of ten. This is good and well worth a check.
Best Track : Cold Heart Of The Klondike

Buy The Life And Times Of Scrooge here on Amazon
Listen to the album here on Spotify
Deezer listeners can click on this link here
Official Tuomas Holopainen Website here
His Official Facebook is on this link here

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