Now that halloween, bonfire night, thanksgiving, and black Friday have passed, is it safe to mention the C-word? Now that family packs of mince pies are being devoured with ease on a regular basis, can we talk about December 25th without risk of a slap? ‘From Spirits And Ghosts (score for a dark Christmas)’, to give it its full name, is the latest winter album from Finnish superstar Tarja. The words “score” and “dark” give the game away really. This is not Val Doonican in a hideous jumper, or David Bowie and Bing Crosby in front of a fireplace, this is the score to the fake Christmas movie at the beginning of ‘Scrooged’.
Darker than dark, this is a stunning, cinematic experience, where you might find yourself playing the game of placing each track into a particular movie… like the stunning interpretation of ‘Amazing Grace’ (five words that I never thought I’d ever utter), usually reserved for any burial scene in any movie, and usually accompanied by a Police pipe band. Here, it’s actually quite joyful. The song builds, with the help of a stunning string arrangement, into a towering and emotional finale. Near the end, it’s almost like a fireworks display in my ears, as the orchestra explodes into life. Stunning arrangements from award winning composer Jim Dooley, and I’m not afraid to say that I listened to this three times in a row, the effect was that powerful. The beautiful, haunting ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’ signals a softer, subdued vocal performance from Tarja. Everyone knows her for her amazing vocal gymnastics, but here she reigns them in. In all honesty, it didn’t feel like I was listening to a hymn, it felt more like something from a Tim Burton movie, utterly spellbinding. Tarja has taken classic Christmas carols like ‘We Three Kings’, ‘Deck The Halls’, and ‘We Wish You A Merry Christmas’, and put her own spin on them. ‘Deck The Halls’ is especially dark, and the traditional “Fa-la-la-la-la” part is quite sinister. The child’s voice that delivers the line induces some heebie-jeebies. ‘O Tannenbaum’ is delivered by Tarja in perfect German, which adds an alluring atmosphere to the track. The arrangements are, again, magical. The way the strings build prior to the whole orchestra coming in is sublime. At times, the orchestration borders on Bond soundtrack-like size, and would be perfect for that part just before the mountain blows up. You know the part, a mountain always blows up in a Bond movie, or a train, or a baddie’s lair hidden in a dormant volcano… sharks with fricken laser beams!
‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’ is perhaps the closest the album comes to what you would perceive a traditional Christmas carol to be. ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ might also begin this way, but soon takes on a dark twist with a middle eastern vibe, Tarja’s vocals mixing well with the choral segments for a surprisingly powerful end result. The album features one new track, ‘Together’. This heralds a siren-like vocal performance from Tarja… siren, as in the mythical creatures that lured sailors to their death with their enchanting voices, not a fire truck! The irresistible vocals simply wash over you. Traditionally, a Christmas album is out of date come December 26th, as welcome as that pair of socks from your Gran, but with the exception of some of the overtly Christmassy tracks, there are enough moments on here that would be welcome all year round. Then again, I’m one of those freaks that can watch Christmas movies in the Summer and still enjoy it. There are also some weird people out there that don’t class ‘Die Hard’ as a Christmas movie! Bah humbug to the lot of them.
Available now. More information available on Tarja’s website.
Review: Dave Stott