Review by Rick Ossian
Let me see here… not quite sure how to begin this one! Let’s just lay out what we know on the table and go from there, shall we? What have we got here? Now THAT’s a good question! This is a beastie of several different proportions, it is. To begin with, it is, quite naturally, an apparent side project of the Nightwish genius/creator/keyboardist, Tuomas Holopainen. It is also, apparently, a faux Walt Disney motion picture soundtrack, and of quite epic proportions, I must say. It was also an epic surprise to myself, oddly enough. When I started off my weekend proper, I was NOT expecting a barrage of violins (and other strings), xylophones, tympani, whistles, bells, etc. to be the mainstay of my musical meanderings.
As it happens, it was a pleasant surprise.
Now, for those of you expecting brain-splitting progressive metal here, I hate to disappoint you, but you must search elsewhere. Perhaps Nightwish‘s latest offering? Or some Epica would suit you wonderfully. Perhaps even Dream Theater, naturally. But THIS is NOT it. If you enter upon this voyage expecting hard rock, or Metal, or anything even remotely approaching either, then you will be dismayed to learn that you have taken a wrong turn, erm, musically speaking, that is. For The Life and Times of Scrooge is ANYTHING but Metal. It may, perhaps, have a Metal mind at the helm. That is not necessarily in question. But this is classical music, soundtrack music, even Disney soundtrack music, at its worst AND its best.
When I first ventured upon this quest, as I mentioned above, I really had no idea what I was letting myself in for. Until I spied the album cover, that is. This is not the Scrooge you may have first imagined – it definitely was NOT the Scrooge I was expecting. To my overwhelming surprise, it WAS/IS the one and only Scrooge McDuck, of Duck Tales and Disney movie fame. It is, literally, a chronicle of his life, from the first track, entitled Glasgow 1877. We presume that this is when and where Mr. McDuck was born, of course, and we move on. By the by, when you first delve into Tuomas’ Facebook page, you may notice his ‘influences’, as it were: Metallica, Hans Zimmer (big soundtrack guy), Walt Disney, other heavy metal music, movie soundtracks and family.
Moving right along then; Glasgow… is a violin piece, mainly – it also features what sounds like a Japanese female vocalist. Again, I’m assuming this. I could be WAY off. Let’s just say, for the sake of argument (no pun intended), that she’s Asian. Her singing is good, but it is, by turns, disturbing and gleeful. There are times when she can be a bit annoying, but then again it could be just my ear…she gets more so in a tune or two coming up here.
On Into the West, we are again reminded that though this is definitely an obviously cool side project, it is NOT Metal. There is a blues harp solo of sorts about 4 minutes in, but that’s about as close to rock as this gets. Period. End of story. If there is any room for doubt here whatsoever, let me remove it right now. This stuff is NOT for rocking out, per se. There are moments that are absolutely triumphant, but rock it is not. Okay, enough of that nonsense. On we go!
Duel and Cloudscapes is more of the same, classical in composition, and definitely as it sounds like it would be in the title. Horns, strings and percussion fend off each other in a ribald repartee of rhythm! Dig the whistles, too! There is even some xylophone contained herein, as well as a tympani drum or two. Bells and whistles, indeed! So, we have established that this is more of a symphonic/orchestral adventure. At about 3 minutes in, there is some more male/female chanting vocal acrobatics. This track sounds like it was intended for a chase scene in a film. And, with that, I believe I’ve discovered Tuomas’ purpose here. This is obviously intended for a soundtrack for a film ABOUT The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck! Or is it? Only time will tell, but I haven’t seen a review for the movie – yet.
Dreamtime sounds a bit psych/quasi-classical. Cool vibes mixed with heavy drums, a vibraphone and some even more bizarre instruments. The humming/buzzing noise is kind of cool at first, but then gets old quickly. A weird ending, too, so you shall hear – let us say it is a rather percussive ending.
Cold Heart of the Klondike features a beautiful piano intro, and definitely not the last one either. There is some vocal interplay that may remind one of chanting female monks doing the Children of the Corn thing (à la the South Park episode where Britney Spears gets her comeuppance). There is more of the cool classical vibe, with strings, flute, whistles, bells, the whole bit. Everything including the kitchen sink. Music inspired by Scrooge, indeed — only something tells me that he would have been a bit more sparing on the musical budget in the studio!
The Last Sled features another gorgeous piano intro, wherein there is narration, presumably from Scrooge himself (then again maybe it’s Tuomas). During the narration, Scrooge assures us that ‘finding the gold is better than having the gold’. Is it, then? We are also told of the forest, and ‘(its) beauty fills me with wonder/the stillness fills me with peace‘. A side of Scrooge that we seldom see, perhaps? At 4 minutes in there is more of the aforementioned female vocals, and some exquisite piano accompaniment. The line that chills me the most is ‘there’s gold…and it’s haunting me’. Shivers went up my spine when I heard that…wait a minute, this is a cartoon we’re talking about! Or is it? You decide, dear reader, and please let me know what you come up with!
Goodbye, Papa features more violins, yet another gorgeous piano intro. The piano/flute interplay continues as a theme of sorts throughout this work. At 2 minutes in, things erupt in a classical way again, this time à la Wagner, with a bit of force behind the construction. STILL not even bordering on rock or metal, though. Just thought I’d point that out AGAIN.
To Be Rich is more of the same, this time with a violin intro. The disturbing female vocalist is there again, this time at about 1 minute in, and this time she is bordering on Yoko-esque histrionics. She IS definitely a wee bit annoying at this juncture, but she redeems herself a bit later on in the same tune, so why not, right? She speaks of ‘silent night(s)/silent years/sleepness night(s), etc., ad nauseum almost. There is an interesting interlude of sorts at about 2:30.
A Lifetime of Adventure is another soundtrack-type piece, with the female vocalist again. This stuff is bizarre at best, quite disturbing at its worst. Like I said before, not, perhaps, for the feint of heart, but also not for the metal-minded. Unless, of course, you also dig classical tunes. If that’s the case, then cue it up, by all means!
Go Slowly Now, Hands of Time, the closer, features a beautiful guitar with vocal accompaniment. Scrooge speaks of ‘a poet of Scotland (who) once cried: “Home is the sailor/Home from the sea”. Again, the male/female singing at the end is exquisite.
Now, how to rate it? If you came in expecting metal, then you would have to go low, maybe even as low as 2 or 3 stars. However, if you’re not rating it AS Metal or Hard Rock, then you would have to rate it as a classical piece, or even, as mentioned before, a Disney movie soundtrack. If that was the case, it would deserve at least 4. So,there you have it. If soundtracks or classical music or even Scrooge himself intrigues you, then you should give this a listen!