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Digital Subscriptions > Classic Pop > Nov 2019 > MAGNE FURUHOLMEN WHITE XMAS LIES

MAGNE FURUHOLMEN WHITE XMAS LIES

HAVE YOURSELF A MERRY LITTLE CHRISTMAS? NOT IF THE A-HA KEYBOARDIST’S WELCOME ANTIDOTE TO FALSE FESTIVE CHEER HAS GOT ANYTHING TO DO WITH IT…
© Nina Djærff

DRABANT MUSIC / MEMBRAN

★★★★

Given he’s helped write some of the biggest songs by Norway’s biggest band, you’d think A-ha’s Magne Furuholmen would be happy.

That his third solo album is a Christmas collection would appear to underline that belief.

But White Xmas Lies is anything but cheerful.

Before his opening song, the world-weary There Goes Another Year, has finished, he’s acknowledging “what we say but do not mean/ Every word and in-between”, before winding up “in the darkness of December/ As our letters come returned to sender.” Don’t expect a card this winter.

It’s a mood he maintains almost unceasingly, though White Xmas Lies nevertheless offers glimpses of fairy lights, albeit disguised by a comforting bittersweet melancholy, the kind Radiohead sometimes achieve.

Admittedly, A Punch-Up On Boxing Day’s chiming pianos and mournful melody are more like Coldplay after a rough divorce, but both This Is Now America – whose title and structure pun on David Bowie and Pat Metheny’s 1984 collaboration – and The Season To Be Melancholy, a shuffling tune with cooing backing vocals and acoustic guitars, recall the masterful In Rainbows.

That said, the former laments America’s broken dreams, with its “shooting sprees in her school-yard/ Border walls and prison guards” and the nation notably steered by “a monkey at the wheel”. The latter’s title, meanwhile, is self-explanatory, though lines like, “Out comes the Christmas punch/ But you just take it on the chin” drive the point home.

There are, however, also echoes of Pink Floyd in Furuholmen’s vocals, which creak appealingly like Roger Waters’.

That’s especially true on Caprice Des Dieux, an acoustic track highlighting a faltering voice that’s nonetheless effectively vulnerable while attempting to “guide a human heart through these trying times”. It’s also evident in the title track’s weightier arrangements – though there he makes room for sleigh bells – and on The Light We Lost, whose stately atmosphere preaches acceptance of failed friendships.

At least there’s hearty laughter after the concluding, unsettling Jingle Bells riff.

Elsewhere, there’s admirable, classy songwriting – Tom Waits-style piano ballad So Cold Its Hard To Think, the lethargic Snow Is Falling, the closing, reconciliatory Come Back Home – which remind us that A-ha are far more than a pretty face. There’s even an extraordinarily raw, sparse cover of AC/DC’s Hells Bells.

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About Classic Pop

In the latest issue, we have an exclusive interview with synth pioneers Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark as they celebrate 40 years of marrying art with pop. Elsewhere, we welcome back Simply Red – Mick Hucknall talks us through new album Blue Eyed Soul and Classic Pop speaks to Prince’s inner circle as the Purple One’s wonderful 1999 LP gets a revelatory boxset treatment. Our classic album this month is Peter Gabriel’s iconic So, the perfect union of pop and World music that made the former Genesis frontman a global star. There’s a dash of Acid Jazz funkiness as we meet Incognito and The Brand New Heavies plus we hear from Bruce Hornsby about how Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon has given him some latter-day hipster cachet. We take an in-depth look at the solo back catalogue of George Michael in our Album By Album feature and also hear from Midge Ure about his 1980 Tour and brand new career retrospective compilation. In our extensive reviews section, we put new albums from the likes of A-ha’s Magne Furuholmen, Anna Of The North, Alphabeat, The Wonder Stuff and David Hasselhoff under the microscope and there’s a bumper crop of reissues including that huge Prince boxset, Rick Astley, The Police, Sparks, David Bowie, Simple Minds, Factory Records and much more. Our books special includes reviews of Prince’s autobiography The Beautiful Ones, Andrew Ridgeley’s George & Me plus Debbie Harry’s Face It and more. For live reviews, we head to Hyde Park for Radio 2’s Festival In A Day – headlined by Pet Shop Boys – and elbow our way down the front for shows by xPropaganda/D:uel, Tanita Tikaram, The International Teachers Of Pop and Morten Harket.