For people who are not familiar with the story, it may seem a bit odd to base an entire album upon a 20-year old comic book series in 12 chapters about the life of a filthy rich duck. Anyone who read the story, however, will know that Don Rosas by now classic “The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck”-series is a celebration of life, love, adventure and the power of memories. Scrooge McDuck was fleshed out with a depth of character never before seen in the duck-universe. This is when you begin to understand why the story might appeal to the creative epicenter of Nightwish, Tuomas Holopainen.
Soundtracks and cinematic film scores heavily influence Nightwish as a band, yet this solo album marks the first time that Tuomas Holopainen has actually attempted to write a longer soundtrack for a specific story. The whole Imaginaerum movie-project was made after the album was written, and the songs were not created with a coherent story in mind. Fortunately, Holopainen succeeds beautifully on this first attempt.
Fans of Nightwish will definitely love this album. Fans of Don Rosa will recognize most of the elements of the story they hold so dear. Fans of both Nightwish and Don Rosa are in for the treat of a lifetime. At the same time, the album should appeal to anyone with an affinity for emotive soundscapes. This is due to the simple fact that no heavy metal-band is to be heard anywhere, and that the soundtrack-elements, once again recorded in collaboration with composer Pip Williams, now stand masterfully on their own. The handiwork is recognizably Holopainen. We will hear a few well-known tricks, yet also many new ideas.
The original story goes far and wide, both geographically and spiritually. From Glasgow to the Wild West to the Klondike of Northern Canada. From light-hearted comedy to determined struggle. From idealism and hope to tragedy and redemption. From innocence to experience. The album takes us along a personal interpretation of all these moments, and falters perhaps only once.
The opening track, “Glasgow 1877”, opens masterfully. A grand opening accented by choirs and the vocals of Johanna Kurkela gives way to quiet beauty evoking the open Scottish highlands with strings, piano and the Uillean pipes of Troy Donockley taking turns. One of the hightlights of the album. Then we journey immediately into an upbeat adventure in the West with banjo, guitar and harmonica on “Into the West”. On the next track, “Duel & Cludscapes” Scrooge fights for his life as Holopainen arms himself with the full orchestral arsenal and batters down any resistance with some battle tactics reminiscent of Hans Zimmer. We could go on in this way through the whole album. The only song, which leaves me wondering about its purpose, is “Dreamtime”, interesting, yet for some reason purposefully repetitive.
Some of the final songs on the album deserve special mention. Firstly, because they portray the tragedy, melancholy and isolation of the older Scrooge McDuck before he is redeemed by Donald Duck and the three nephews, a soundscape where Holopainen has always been at home. Secondly, because Johanna Kurkela shines, steal the songs and take them to a completely new level by conveying the emotion needed and much more. The love that is never consummated between Scrooge McDuck and Glittering Goldie drives these songs. The songs in question here are “To Be Rich” and “The Last Sled”.
“The Last Sled” has recognizable verses and choruses. The same can be said of “Cold Heart of the Klondike”, where Tony Kakko from Sonata Arctica provide the vocals, and the final “Go Slowly Now, Sands of Time” Yet these songs are not solely dominated by vocals. The damnably catchy and artfully simple “A Lifetime of Adventure” follows a slightly more traditional song structure. “Go Slowly Now, Sands of Time”, sung by Scottish singer Alan Reid as Scrooge McDuck, portrays Scrooge on his deathbed, a controversial idea that Don Rosa did think of, but never finished as a story.
Personally, I am one of those lucky bastards who is a big fan of both Don Rosa and Holopainen. I have read and re-read the story countless times ever since the childhood years of the early 1990’s. Expectations were huge on my part when I heard that Tuomas would realize his old idea of doing this album. Therefore, this review may not exactly be impersonal and objective. But these things never are. I can only thank Don Rosa for the story and Tuomas Holopainen for fully doing it justice.
“The Life and Times of Scrooge” tracklist:
- Glasgow 1877
- Into The West
- Duel & Cloudscapes
- Cold Heart Of The Klondike
- The Last Sled
- Goodbye, Papa
- To Be Rich
- A Lifetime Of Adventure
- Go Slowly Now, Sands Of Time
Metal From Finland score: 9/10
Review written by Kristian