The thing about concept albums that often gets forgotten is that both the artist and the listener have to truly be invested in the story for the album to work as intended. Without that sincerity, they amount to nothing more than bloated albums that use art as a means of excusing their weaknesses. When a bad idea comes along, like writing a double concept album about a mystic charlatan who was the medieval equivalent of a carnival huckster sitting in front of a crystal ball (yes, I'm talking about “Nostradamus”), there is no hope of the album ever overcoming the subject matter. A good concept album not only needs to have great songs, but it needs to have a story that the listener can invest in, something that can make the experience something more than merely listening to another collection of songs.
I will admit that when I heard about “The Life And Times Of Scrooge McDuck”, my first thoughts drifted towards the infamous “Nostradamus”. I wasn't sure how a concept album about a cartoon duck could ever capture my imagination, let alone make me believe the emotions contained in the music. There is so much distance to put between myself and an anthropomorphized animal who only exists in pen and ink that I was bracing myself for failure even before I pressed the play button.
Having heard about the project, it's clear that the album is a labor of love for Tuomas, that he truly is inspired by the story of Scrooge. That makes the entire experience very different than it could have been.
What needs to be kept in context is that this is not an album in the usual sense, but is indeed a soundtrack to the story of Scrooge's life. What that means is that you're not going to hear much in the way of traditional songs, the structure far looser than anything Tuomas would write for Nightwish. It also means that if you aren't familiar with the story of Scrooge, it will be incredibly difficult to fully embrace the album.
As for the music itself, Tuomas has captures the sound and the spirit of orchestral soundtracks, and colors the album with some beautiful moments. There are bits and pieces throughout the record that are wondrous in how they can evoke feeling in largely instrumental passages, but I can't escape the feeling that there's still something missing. I can't fault Tuomas' abilities as a composer, because everything he does on the album is a work of expert precision. However, as successful as the music is on its own, I don't think it works as he intended.
The album is called “The Life And Times Of Scrooge McDuck”, and not having read the comics it's derived from, I get very little of the story from the music. The instrumentation changes to fit the setting, but the heart of the story is missing from most of the album. The music is beautiful, but it doesn't really say very much. Like the characters who inspired it, the whole thing feels two-dimensional. I was hoping for an album that could tell a story, that could make me care about a character I hadn't thought about since I was a kid, but I don't get that from these songs.
Don't get me wrong, the music is wonderful, and it's certainly an enjoyable record to listen to, I just don't think it hit the target it was aiming for.