There’s no chestnuts roasting around an open fire on a-ha’s Magne Furuholmen’s Christmas album, ‘White Xmas Lies’. Rather, it’s doom, gloom, cold winters, and family punch-ups on Boxing Day (get it?). But hey, isn’t that what Christmas is really all about anyway?
Opening with ‘There Goes Another Year’, Magne starts out as he intends to continue. We tend to forget that a-ha‘s music has never been upbeat and cheery stuff – the band comes from Norway after all, and the country is known for, well being cold. Especially in winter. With ‘There Goes Another Year’ he sings of less happy relationships and the whole thing of each year just slipping away too fast, and it’s by the time we reach “the darkness of December” that we realise we’ve let another year go without repairing all those rifts. It’s no wonder Christmas is peak suicide time, not to mention a period for a rise in domestic violence. It’s grim, but it’s true.
With his album, Furuholmen says he is
“ashamed to be part of a Christmas which these days seems to be mostly about buying more and more shit that no one needs or even really wants…a tacky, superficial celebration in stark contrast to the original Christmas message of hope, charity, and compassion”.
And it’s true – every year we’re fed the lies of what we should be experiencing, White Xmas Lies indeed.
He continues this theme with ‘The Light We Lost’, and still with ‘A Punch Up On Boxing Day’. This latter one I really enjoyed, because it speaks true in so many households. Every Christmas families do the whole big dinner and it’s stressful and exhausting – so by the time Boxing Day comes around, nerves are stretched to breaking point and…snap. “Out comes the Christmas Punch, and you just take it on the chin”. Not necessarily so much a punch up but definitely a shouting match…but by the 27th it’s generally – hopefully – all over.
‘Caprice Des Dieux’ is the name of a beautiful French soft cheese, and goes very well with Champagne, so it’s appropriate for seeing in the New Year perhaps. Compared to the rest of the songs on the album, this is the one which comes closest to being a “cheesy” Christmas song, Mags singing falsetto, accompanied by a light instrumentation. Lyrically it’s a bit lighter than the rest, talking of healing, starting all over again – let’s make the next year a better one than the one that’s gone before.
‘This Is Now America’ was released as a surprise single in August, Furuholmen’s take on what the US used to be like compared to what it is now. To my mind it draws comparisons with Bowie/Trent Reznor’s ‘I’m Afraid Of Americans’, and there’s obvious digs at the current US government, with lines like “monkeys at the wheel”. Accompanied by a lyric video, with artwork and concept – Furuholmen is also a visual artist – by Magne, and directed by his son Thomas Vincent, ‘This Is Now America’ is seen from the point of view of a woman finding a diary of her hopes and dreams from the past, and comparing them with what the reality is now.
Furuholmen took to Instagram to talk about the song:
“This song is an instinctive artistic response to my own growing concern about our drift towards division and entrenchment – happening all over the place, and on all sides of thinking. If we conclude that the ones who share our opinions are the good guys, and the ones who do not are bad, then we are on a dangerous path.
It could have been written about a great number of places, like my second home Great Britain, or indeed my native Norway…I don’t care much for what is happening here either.
But truth is, what happens in America is just much more important to the world.
So it came out this way: a lament for an America I think a lot of us are still trying our best to dream about. Both inside the country and out.
As an artist I cannot help but express how I feel – about everything around me. This does not mean there is an ambition to push a particular political agenda, or even advance my own personal views – I am not even sure that I am right half the time. I do however believe in the power of art to open minds – my own as well as those of others.”
Sure there’s still “shooting stars and muscle cars/ fairy lights and apple pie” but they’re harder to find in a world where so-called Western democracy looks increasingly more like dictatorship.
Title track ‘White Xmas Lies’ once again touches on the Christmas we’re led to believe we should be having, and the ones we actually do. “family and friends, we lie and pretend, that nothing will come between us”, while ‘Differences’ – the synth opening (sounding very much like Philip Oakey/Giorgio Moroder’s ‘Together In Electric Dreams’), and the unexpected theremin makes this a welcome respite in what is otherwise a very very dark album.
Fans of a-ha will love this album. Fans of Mags definitely will. We will certainly be playing this throughout the Christmas season, as a reminder that things don’t have to be all upbeat and jolly; it’s quite alright to be dark and melancholy as well.
‘White Xmas Lies’ is available now, and more information can be found here. Find out more about Magne Furuholmen online on his official website, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. You can see Magne performing live with a-ha on the following dates, on their Hunting High And Low Live In Concert Tour:
29.10.19 DUBLIN 3 Arena
30.10.19 BELFAST SSE Arena
01.11.19 GLASGOW Armadillo
02.11.19 LEEDS First Direct Arena
05.11.19 LONDON Royal Albert Hall
06.11.19 BRIGHTON Brighton Centre