Every year it seems we’re blessed with some rock star or other giving a festive makeover to some Christmas classics. To be fair the results have been varied, very varied. Hands up who remembers Winter Songs by Halford ?
How could we forget..
Anyway, this year the early onset of the festive season was heralded by the arrival of the interestingly titled Spirits And Ghosts (Score For A Dark Christmas). At first glance the tracklist is a veritable Christmas dinner with all the trimmings of seasonal classics. It may still be only November, but it’s never too early
Actually, as there are so few Christmas songs to chose from, the track selection has a bit of crossover with the previously mentioned Winter Songs, you can compare and contrast their respective takes on O Come O Come Emmanuel, We Three Kings and What Child Is This.
Opening proceedings we have Tarja’s take on O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. Now when you first listen to this it’s a bit of an aural double take. Things are slowed down and stripped back to their most basic, just some unobtrusive instrumentation with Ms. Trunen in a very restrained mood, you know the full operatic thing is coming, but not yet. This is gentle, haunting background music a million miles away from her ‘day job’. That seems to be the theme here, slow things down and make it darker. Do we need a slow, dark Deck The Halls?
Dunno, we’ve got one though.
The whole album channels a Tim Burton-esque darkness, the words you will definitely know but they’re delivered with a gothic grandeur that is at odds with the cheery subject matter. The album was recorded in the Caribbean sunshine, but that doesn’t permeate the music, as Tarja herself puts “Producing a dark Christmas album in the middle of the summer is a very interesting process, especially if you are doing it by the turquoise Caribbean Sea. Significantly different from the snowy Christmas that I am used to in my home country Finland. Another proof that the darkness comes from deep within. On this album, I explored the other side of Christmas. The Christmas of the lonely people and the missing ones. The Christmas for those that do not find joy in the blinking lights and the jingle bells.”
I have to admit, I really like this album for the most part. It’s the perfect antidote to forced Christmas cheer and Tarja’s voice is (as you’d expect) sublime as it’s given a workout that takes it into whole new areas.
As with any of these albums there are a few real highlights where the reimagining Tarja has given the songs hits the spot such as Amazing Grace and What Child Is This, but also some where things don’t seem to click quite as well, We Wish You A Merry Christmas coming over as a bit, well, laboured and unnecessary.
But, hey, you try and add gothic darkness to lyrics about figgy pudding.
You can view these Seasonal albums as a money making scheme if you want, but this one really comes across as something Tarja has poured heart and soul into and it is exquisitely put together with. If you’re planning on having a solitary, miserable Christmas then you’re in luck, Tarja has provided you with this year’s soundtrack.
Hey, it’s a million times better than most of the Greatest Hits compilations that clog up the digital arteries of the festive season.