A round-up of festive music brings forth collaborations, old favourites and new takes…
Emma-Lee Moss (aka Emmy The Great) and Ash‘s Tim Wheeler were snowed in last Christmas and decided to spend some time writing some Christmas songs of their own together. As the year progressed, enough songs for an album were recorded, and hence we have This Is Christmas – a fun, heartwarming and, yes, festive, collection that showcases the best of Emmy The Great and Ash’s respective strengths.
Apart from one song (Marshmallow World, as featured on the Spector Christmas album), all the tracks here are written by the couple. So we get Moss taking on the persona of a pissed-off Mrs Clause in Don’t Call Me Mrs Christmas; Christmas Day (I Wish I Was Surfing) which showcases Wheeler’s talent for fuzzed-up power pop; and the gloriously silly Zombie Christmas, which should need no further explanation.
It doesn’t quite touch the heights of the duo’s respective solo projects, but to be fair, it’s never intended to. Best of all, it’s all kept on the right side of twee – Home For The Holidays and Sleigh Me are touching and poignant without having to reach for the sick bucket, while Jesus The Reindeer has the best introduction of the year, simply involving Moss and Wheeler excitedly yelling out the names of Santa’s reindeers (and later on namechecking such unlikely figures as Joey and Chandler from Friends and Sarah Palin).
Wheeler and Moss’ vocals work well together, and like all the best Christmas songs (think Fairytale Of New York or Baby Please Come Home), there’s a touch of sadness lurking underneath the sleigh bells.
Almost the US equivalent of Emmy & Tim are actress Zooey Deschanel and her She & Him partner, songwriter M Ward. The duo have really entered into the spirit of Christmas this year, even going to the somewhat twee lengths of sending out knitted hats and mittens with initial pressings of the album.
Unlike Emmy and Tim though, She & Him’s festive album is full of cover versions – some of which, like Sleigh Ride, are impossibly infectious and sweet, while others such as Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree are horribly bland and characterless.
It works on occasion though – Baby It’s Cold Outside is lovely, with the traditional gender roles of the song swapped around, while Deschanel pours just the right amount of lovelorn longing into Elvis Presley’s Blue Christmas. Ultimately though, this is an album that may sound nice enough in mid-December, but plays it far too safe to generate any long-term interest.
If She & Him play it too safe though, Smith & Burrows have released a Christmas album that sounds like it’s been recorded on Planet Bizarro. Tom Smith of Editors and Andy Burrows, late of Razorlight, have teamed up for an album of hymns, Christmas standards, original songs and cover versions of tracks by Black, Yazoo and The Longpigs.
It’s frankly all over the place, and makes for a strange listen. While the covers are an interesting experiment, they’re hardly ‘Christmassy’, while the original songs are a very mixed bag. Burrows’ voice is a deadringer for Elliott Smith (especially on the lilting As The Snowflakes Fall), but the portentous ballad that is When The Thames Freezes is ruined by some dreadful lyrics (“God damn this Government…will they ever tell me where the money went?” intones Smith at one point).
Only on This Ain’t New Jersey, a lovely Springsteen homage that you can actually imagine listening to after 25 December, does Smith & Burrows really work. It will, in all probability, be a lot better than the next Razorlight record though.
On the singles front (does anyone still call them singles?), theres plenty of alternatives to the upcoming version of Damien Rice‘s Cannonball that the X Factor winner will reportedly be releasing. The Killers continue their tradition of recording a Christmas song with The Cowboys Christmas Ball, Lady Gaga is covering the old staple White Christmas, while the former Black Box Recorder vocalist Sarah Nixey contributes her very own Nixey’s Merry Christmas and half of Lemon Jelly, Fred Deakin, unveils a new/temporary stage name – Frank Eddie – and remixes East 17‘s Stay Another Day for reasons quite beyond our ken.
Yet if, for you, Christmas is all about the cheese, the novelty and the increasingly desperate celebrities, then theres more than enough choice here too. The semi-official anti X Factor choice this year seems to be The Wombles, who are attempting to bring the fun back into Christmas with their song Wombling Merry Christmas. From TV stars of yesterday to, erm, stars of the present, the cast of the inexplicably popular The Only Way Is Essex have recorded their very own version of the Wham! classic Last Christmas, while The Wurzels have cracked open the festive cider and released their very own seasonal single, Sleigh Ride.
Or, of course, you could choose to create your own Christmas playlist featuring some of your own personal favourites (our choices: Fairytale Of New York by The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl, of course; Slow Club‘s Christmas TV; Darlene Loves Christmas (Baby Please Come Home); Get Behind Me Santa by Sufjan Stevens; and Christmas Wrapping by The Waitresses). Whatever your musical poison at this time of year, we at musicOMH wish you a very happy Christmas.