Monday, April 15, 2024

Tuomas Holopainen – Life and Times of Scrooge

Finnish songwriter, multi-instrumentalist musician Tuomas Holopainen is most famous as the keyboardist with ‘Nightwish‘. Holopainen has based his first solo project ‘Music Inspired by the Life and Times of Scrooge’ on a comic book story (illustrated by Don Rosa) – revealing the strange sourness of the central character – Scrooge McDuck. He wrote and worked on the majority of the musical epic between Feb-April 2013 – just after the Nightwish ‘Imaginaerum’ tour.

In the duck-story ‘Magica De Spell’ travels back in time to steal Scrooge McDuck’s lucky ‘Number One Dime’. And so, as an audience, we begin at the stage where Scrooge thinks he has earned his first dime, back in 1877, on the bleak streets of Glasgow. It was here that the duck starts working as a shoe-shine boy on his tenth birthday, and it is from that moment that his adventures begin to percolate. After these humble beginnings, McDuck heads for the United States on a cattle boat. He meets many strange companions along the way. He pioneers his way across the strange land – and he has many adventures. He even has trips, later, to South Africa and Australia. Amongst his many endeavours – he strikes it rich in the Klondike Gold Rush – and this brings about his vast wealth and dramatically changes his fortune.

It is not unusual to create a piece of music based entirely upon a fictional universe. Some of the world’s best loved and most popular melodies have come from lightweight operettas written about fanciful places and imaginary time-lines. In the ‘Life and Times of Scrooge’ I was reminded of Gilbert and Sullivan’s works – whose nickel-and-dime themes often drew upon images from an invented – almost childlike – world. Perhaps these worlds were first invented in the nursery. (The Mikado’s Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum, for example, both inhabit a land pronounced as “Titty-Poo.”) Musical theatre is littered with examples of such flippant stuff.

However, the ‘Life and Times of Scrooge’ is a topic that might be be seen as one-step-too-far for melodic metal fans. Most ardent Nightwish fans will be disappointed with Holopainen’s choice of theme. The folly of writing about such frivolous fluff is yet to be tested. But undoubtedly, the Machiavellian Disney corporation will be rubbing their sweaty corporate hands in glee about this honorific compliment. The duck is one of their primary money-making characters. It all adds up. Maybe that was one of Holopainen’s primary motivations. The hunt for the noble green-back. We’ll have to wait and see.

the life and times of scrooge

So onto the tales of the Clan McDuck. The album overture is an interpretive description of McDuck Castle (it sits in an idealised Scottish landscape) and then the composition creates the transition back to the sordid streets of Glasgow. It is the year 1877. The whole piece is laced together, as you might expect, with exuberant uilleann pipes and sweet whistles – contrasted with the gritty nature of a gruff Alan Reid-ish cityscape. And it is all actually quite surprising, uplifting and dramatic.

Into The West has a dark edge – but with a voice of butter-cream satin that spreads out across the borders – taking in the great expanses of the piece. This angelic winceyette voices create a soft feathering sound… But we are soon introduced to the Wild West by clopping hoof-beat rhythms and a banjo that is acutely picked up as it paces next to a mournful harmonica. It is all rather heroic and the mechanics of this sound drives the story along.

Duel and Cloudscapes’ has a baroque feel to start with – then a grand march begins. This piece seems menacing – like a gathering storm – as it beckons the arrival of unexpected changes. The next track ‘Dreamtime‘ growls like a beast in a hole. The didgeridoo in this piece is unnerving, as it grumbles against the daintily interlinked soda-straws of sound that tremble and fizz beneath. ‘Cold Heart of the Klondike’ reminds us of something from Mike Oldfield’s back catalogue – with a touch of Carl Orff’s grumbling tone and some theatrical over-gesticulating going on behind.

To be Rich’ is glamorous and windswept. With echoes of those distant heath-lands of childhood. The trail seems to be winding and dangerous now. The ascent affords the listener a chance to peer out over calamitous overhangs and into the deep soup-bowl crevices of sound below. The vocals here are beneficent, kind and uplifting. Almost angelic.

Against a ticking clock ‘A lifetime of Adventure’ sums up McDuck’s life’s work. The divinely soft voice is like a golden pillow for a very weary head to lie upon. And then the story is given its final send-off with the eloquent ‘Johnny Cash’ sounding ‘Go Slowly Now Sands of Time.’ All the remorse, vicious grief and deliverance is here. This could easily have been a song uttered by a former San Quentin inmate looking for some kind of final forgiveness. But it’s not – it is written about the life and memory of a cartoon duck.

With some fine vocal acrobatics from artists like Johanna Kurkela, and that ever-present and highly demonstrative keyboard mastery from Holopainen himself, plus many exquisite moments from the gathered guest instrumentalists, this is an accomplished and well-rounded piece of work. Sometimes it is heavenly – at other times (especially in the songs that are awkwardly articulated) it comes across as slightly Eurovisiony – even EuroDisney. But then again, what would you expect? From a musical written about the Clan McDuck? Try it out and see, though. You might be surprised by the quality.


Tumas Holopainen ‘Life and Times of Scrooge’ is out on Friday 11th April 2014 via Nuclear Blast Records.

Nuclear Blast Interview w/ Tuomas Holopainen on The Life and Times of Scrooge

Neil Mach
Neil Mach
RAMzine Senior Writer - With a career spanning 30 years author / journalist Neil Mach is an expert on the music business and is a reliable guide. He especially loves heavy metal, prog & blues.

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