If, as the song goes, it’s cliched to be cynical at Christmas, then colour me slush grey rather than pristine snow white. Whether it’s Tesco or Virgin Records, the festive season is nothing more than an excuse to cash in and the noise of Roy Wood’s till is the the only true note you’ll hear between now and Hogmanay.
The world of cinema is no better – goodness me, Star Wars got completed just in time for the school holidays. ‘Bad Santa’ aside, Xmas is a time for rubbish movies. If you’re sat on your own with you individual mince pie then ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ isn’t really going to raise your Xmas spirits, unless you can somehow make it to the (SPOILER ALERT) happy ending free of emotional scarring.
That said, Richard Curtis Hugh Grant ‘festive vehicle – ‘4 Weddings On Ice’ – has a clever premise. Shug (as we like to call him up my way) is the son of someone who wrote a classic Xmas hit, maybe the fictional equivalent of Slade. He has squandered his cash and a large amount of royalties until the kid from Skins turns up to give his pitiful but presumably playboy lifestyle meaning. Anyway, the first bit is pretty true-to-life. I mean, what would we do if we wrote such a big hit. Retire? It was Sir Nod (and Jimmy Lea, lest we forget)’s 6th number one and if they’d done ‘Merry Xmas Everyone’ first we’d never had misspelled classics like ‘Skweeze Me Pleeze Me or ‘Coz I Luv You’ to annoy of English teachers the land over. Amazingly given it seems to chart every year it’s only sold 1.2 million copies. Presumably everyone has it on a compilation and anyone wanting to hear it needn’t buy it or even stream it, you just go into BHS any time after the start of November. Or turn on the radio – royalties is what’s keeping Noddy and crew in cuppasoup and sideburn conditioner.
For me, you know it’s Xmas is on its way when The Waitresses’ ‘Xmas Wrapping’ comes on the wireless. Usually around mid-October. A cheery tune with a Richard Grant-style payoff at the end to make your insides all fuzzy, like swallowing a Slayer Xmas sweater.
But for most, Christmas is a time for unwanted presents, unwanted relatives, and unwanted cheeriness on TV and radio. If you want Christmas reflected as it should be then the Grand Gestures ‘Happy Holidays’ album nails it, tales of arrests, misery and unexpected parenthood revelations. Pretty much like Mud did but without the doo-wop. Or The Pogues without the ever-present threat of domestic violence.
Of course, you may not want to wallow in misery. So be grateful that convicted murderer Phil Spector is somehow still afforded airplay for his album, unlike the plethora of 70s celebrities excised from Top of the Pops reruns.
But the legendary Christmas Album isn’t all smiles. Take Darlene Love’s decidedly chipper ‘Baby Please Come Home’, its bouncy wall of sound hiding a tale of heartbreak. For Yule in the raw, you should plump for Arab Strap’s version (with Lauren Laverne on backing vocals) for some proper festive misery. But counter that with Aztec Camera’s ‘Hot Club of Christ’ which delivers every Xmas hit in two minutes.
If, however, you’re already wearing your Christmas jumper and making your list to Santa, you’d better be good for goodness sake, or that copy of The Best Christmas Album in the World… Ever! to replace your worn-out copy might just get swapped out for a copy of Davie and Bing doing ‘Little Drummer Boy. And no-one deserves that… surely?
Label a band ‘art rock’ and you may imagine a ‘collective’ holed up in a squat, making ‘tunes’ by beating the walls with whatever (or whoever) comes to hand.
So it’s a pleasant surprise that this French outfit, at least now, are instead producing palatable alt.rock (for want of a better pigeonhole).
It’s an odd mix in truth – ‘opener ‘Mirrors’ is a mighty mix of shifting rhythms and towering sounds – a little like country mates it’s easily the best thing here. What follows is just fine – a very decent mix of goth and shoegaze. Not art rock, I’d say, but for that we should perhaps be thankful.HHHH
How To Swim
‘Christmas Makes Me Blue’ is how opener ‘Sleighbells is subtitled, and yes, festive angst and loss is the matter in hand for this Glasgow collective. However, like Phil Spector, the situation is tackled head-on with a production big enough to match the rollicking singalong chorus. Gathering together three seasonal EPs, the eleven tunes flit between melancholy , ‘missing you’ torch songs, big sweeping chamber pop epics, and contemplative lo-fi meanderings. There’s even an electropop version of Paul McCartney’s ‘Wonderful Christmastime’, while pride of place goes to the swoony ‘New Year’ which brings this festive musical rollercoaster to an uplifting end.