Eric Clapton – Jingle Bells

“What”

Tim: The current theme of Britain seems to be that no-one has a bloody clue what’s happening. As such, I present to you Eric Clapton’s tribute to Avicii.

Tom: What

Tim: Now I don’t mean any disrespect to Eric or anything, because the man’s a musical legend, but mate: this is garbage.

Tom: I appreciate the idea: do some good guitar riffs, get someone to put it in an Avicii style, make a tribute. Who knows? Maybe he did the mixing himself. Which, actually, would explain a lot. The execution isn’t exactly great.

Tim: It’s six minutes of the extra bits that get stuck outside dance remixes of tracks so the DJs can mix in and out of out of other songs, except the only proper bit in there lasts for precisely 25 seconds. I mean, what is the point of this? For the most part it’s not even slightly recognisable or remotely festive, and as a tribute to a great DJ it’s almost insulting. And…and…and just basically why. Mind you, right now why anything?

Alan Walker, K-391 and Sofia Carson feat. CORSAK – Different World

“Oh joy! Politics! Exactly what we need today!”

Tim: We’ll lay off Christmas for a bit, so I can bring you some NEWS: three years after Faded first came along, Alan’s finally getting on with releasing an album this Friday; it’s about half and half new music’s what we’ve already heard (and weirdly, it’s missing some of his better stuff), but here’s the title track. And hey, it’s got a political message!

Tom: Oh joy! Politics! Exactly what we need today!

Tim: The world’s gone to pot, we can rescue it if we hurry. I’d say that’s a big if, but hey, let’s go with the optimism because the alternative is just hoping that asteroid comes along fairly soon and, well, happiest time of the year and all that.

Tom: And “we’ve got time” isn’t a great message? “We’ve only just got enough time”, sure, but “we’ve got time” implies, screw it, throw another oil-soaked seagull on the barbie.

Er, anyway, let’s… let’s maybe just talk about the music.

Tim: More pop than dance this time, but that’s no big problem because it’s still a great track. There’s maybe less of your typical Alan sound, but apparently ten people (or, if you recall the gubbins about K-391, nine people and one innovative headset) were involved in putting this together, so it’s almost a wonder it holds together as well as it does.

Tom: This really is designed by committee, isn’t it? There’s no distinguishing feature to it: it feels a bit slow, a bit monotonous, a bit… dull. I actually thought it was over when it went into the middle eight, because I thought I’d been listening for a lot longer than two minutes.

When the best bit in your track is the middle eight, that’s not a good sign.

Tim: Strong (if tired and naive) lyrics, good melody throughout and production that is, to surprise, fully on point. I’m in.

Saturday Flashback: Lost Frequencies – Are You With Me (Christmas Mix)

“This seems like an exceptional example.”

Tim: You say cheap and easy Christmas cash cow.

Tom: I do, for basically everything we’re covering this week, but this seems like an exceptional example.

Tim: I say a simple way to make sure an October release stays around long enough to get on the work Christmas party playlist, and now I’ve had that thought I’m surprised it doesn’t happen more often. Anyway, slow and tedious country song, turned into a pretty good dance tune, now all Christmassed up.

Tim: So, regarding the ‘cheap remix’ accusations that will inevitably be thrown at this.

Tom: I mean, “accusations” is putting it mildly, if anyone spent more than a fiver on this remix I’ll be surprised.

Tim: There’s evidence here that some thought has actually gone into it. You’ve obviously got your copy and paste jingle bells on every other beat, and your find and replace drum beats for church bells plus drum beat, but there’s more. Listen in the quiet instrumental bit, from about a minute in, and behind there you’ve got quiet tinkles following the actual melody, rather than the standard jingle bells, and that shows actual thought. Yes, you could put the regular ones on, no-one would complain, it would fine. But no – there’s time and thought gone into this, which I like a lot. It impresses me.

Tom: One week into Can We Get Tom Feeling Festive, and Tim, all I can say is that you’re easily impressed.

Tim: What can I say, I just love Christmas. I’ve got time.

Robin Bengtsson – Born To Love

“At least you were spared the heartbreak.”

Tim: Came out a few weeks ago, and while it’s not a Christmas track it does take place on a cold dark night in December, so I figured it could wait. And be warned: there’s emotion here, so you might want to keep the tissues nearby.

Tom: If a Christmas track actually raises any sort of deep emotion from my cold, cold heart, Tim — even sympathy or sadness — you can consider “Can We Get Tom Feeling Festive” a success. I don’t hold out much hope.

Tim: Now, it’s not often I get emotionally involved with a track – the last time I can remember it happening, in fact, was when Gary and Agnetha reminisced five years ago (and incidentally, the lyric video gave that the happy ending I was wanting, so that’s lovely). But this track, for some reason, really got to me, and I hadn’t even been drinking. Truth is, it’s a beautiful song – the melody is fantastic, his vocal really sells it, and then there’s the lyrics.

Tom: I’ll be honest, reader: given the setup and that we’re only three songs into the month, you can probably figure out where my response is going here.

Tim: Thing is, I don’t want this sad ending. I want him to change – or rather, I want him to realise that actually, she can change him. He’s not found anyone yet, but instead of giving up, the song’s target persists, and eventually he realises he was born to love. He was born to have a fantastic life, born to marry this fantastic person, born to have beautiful kids, and, sixty years down the line, born to be spending the cold dark nights in December in a lovely warm cottage, surrounded by a devoted family. So keep the first few verses – paint him as a tragic figure. But towards the end, fiddle with the lyrics, Robin. Give yourself some hope, some sign of a future, so that you’re not living in yesterday’s house at the end of the road. Because dammit, it’s Christmas. Can’t you try for some happiness?

Tom: I’m sure that was a heartwarming suggestion, Tim, but unfortunately half way through the track I fell asleep.

Tim: Well in that case at least you were spared the heartbreak.

Bella & Filippa – Ring Them Bells

“It’s a cut above most of the dreck you send over at Christmas.”

Tim: Until now, this pairing were only known for the 2017 Melodifestivalen entry, the quick moving, guitar strumming Crucified. With a debut album apparently on the way for next year, though, when better to get back into the game than the official Most Wonderful Time Of The Year?

Tom: Literally any other time, Tim. It’s like going to the shops on Christmas Eve: everyone else is dashing there too. Also, it should be “Ring Those Bells”, if I’m going to be grumpy about it.

Tim: Oh no.

Tim: So I’m going for an unusual strategy today, because I’ll go right ahead and say it: this is not a great Christmas track. Or even a particularly good one.

Tom: And I’m also going for an unusual response: this… isn’t… bad?

Tim: What?

Tom: I mean, it’s a cut above most of the dreck you send over at Christmas. Why don’t you like it?

Tim: It’s too slow; there’s a long time before anything interesting happens; overall it just drags a bit. But dammit, there’s potential here – that “house at the end of the road” melody is lovely; the chorus, while repetitive isn’t of itself bad; and the ‘look out for the lonely people’ message is lovely.

Tom: It’s blurring the line between schlager and country, as often happens. But, yes, I’ll grant you that it’s slow — at two minutes in I was assuming we were going for the final chorus, but no, we weren’t even half way through.

Tim: Now, let’s improve it. We can’t bin off everything before forty seconds in (which would lower the general dullness score), because it’d ruin the narrative, but we can use it as a springboard, much like Mariah does with here “iiii-ii-i-isss yooo-ooo-oo-ooou” moment. Obviously don’t bring it up as enormously as that does, but if you’re not having a chorus there you’ve got to do something. Bring the next verse, and subsequent ones, up to the level of the chorus. Dial the choruses up even further, to where the existing end ones are like (though you can leave the upper vocals for the end). Finally, speed it up – played at 1.25x through YouTube, it’s a bit better.

Tom: I’m not convinced that the speed change improves it, but you’re right: it does need something else. Or, perhaps, one verse less.

Tim: Then, and only then, might you have a good song. As it is, it’s not going to end up on my Christmas playlist – and hell, I’ve got 50 Grand For Christmas on there.

The Fizz – Don’t Start Without Me

“Home For My Heart was one of the highlights of last year’s Christmas, and happily I can absolutely report that they’ve done it again.”

Tim: You’ll remember The not-legally-allowed-to-call-themselves-Bucks Fizz’s Christmassed up Home For My Heart was one of the highlights of last year’s Christmas, and happily I can absolutely report that they’ve done it again. I don’t want to spoil anything, so just press play and watch this utterly wonderful video.

Tom: “Will it ever stop raining / they’re cancelling trains and” is the worst rhyming couplet this week, Tim.

Tim: True, and if we’re honest perhaps of this year as well. BUT that is one tiny, minor, niggling point in this otherwise 100% number. You see, I’ll be getting the train back to my parents’ place for Christmas this year, and I won’t lie to you, part of me hopes the train breaks down, so all of us passengers can have a party while we’re waiting, exchanging gifts, breaking out the booze, and everyone dancing around to electric guitars, lyrics that include “toot toot” and absolutely glorious key changes.

Tom: I actually muttered “oh, piss off” under my breath after that “toot toot”. It’s just a series of gripes. And “don’t start without me”, while a good turn of phrase, actually just means everyone’s sitting around waiting for the one person who couldn’t plan in time. YES I’M OVERANALYSING THIS.

Tim: BUT EVERYTHING IN IT IS GOOD. The thing I love so much about this song is that it just keeps escalating: initially, you’ve got everything that makes up a great pop song. A minute and a half in and the video throws in an impromptu party on a train. Forty seconds more, and up comes the song to say “hang on, let me give you a ludicrous electric guitar breakdown”. A bit later: “no, that wasn’t enough, here’s a bloody ridiculous key change for you”.

Tom: If only it were a good song.

Tim: Oh, mate. This is, hands down, one of my favourite songs of the year, and the fact that it’s a Christmas just makes it even better.

William Shatner feat. Rick Wakeman – O Come, O Come Emmanuel

“We are BACK, it is DECEMBER, and so it is high time for the annual game of ‘Can We Get Tom Feeling Festive?’.”

Tom: Apologies for the delay in service here, folks, my laptop died and I had to wait for a repair.

Tim: We are BACK, it is DECEMBER, and so it is high time for the annual game of ‘Can We Get Tom Feeling Festive?’.

Tom: For our new reader: this is a game that Tim tries every year and which my Grinch-like self increasingly regrets, as a parade of cash-in Christmas albums goes past. THAT SAID: from the title alone, Tim, this is a strong start.

Tim: To kick us off, well. I don’t know how it’s taken William Shatner until now to release a Christmas album. I also don’t really know how well ‘Shatner Claus’ works as an album title, but there it is anyway. A load of tracks, mostly each featuring a slightly well known musician. This one in particular caught my eye simply because I couldn’t quite imagine what Mr Shatner’s voice could bring to this typically quite reserved hymn.

Tim: And you know what? It doesn’t sound too awful.

Tom: I mean, “doesn’t sound too awful” is a low bar to clear. And I say this as someone who genuinely, unironically enjoys Shatner’s cover of Common People. You’re going to need to elaborate on that.

Tim: The opening instrumentation sounds about right, with his voice working as an admittedly somewhat peculiar narration, and whoever the anonymous female vocalist is, she can clearly pull it off. Slightly let down by his speaking over the chorus, and him talking ominously about Satan and hell gives a vibe that’s more comedic than festive, but I can’t deny that Rick Wakeman’s keyboarding sounds very good, and by the end of it all I’m almost just impressed that it’s all holding together.

Tom: It does just about hold together! That is… not actually an endorsement though?

Tim: If you want to check out more of his festive work (and you really really should), have some recommendations: Little Drummer Boy was almost featured instead of this, because it’s a lot of fun.

Tom: I just listened to that as a comparison, and… no. No, that’s even worse.

Tim: There’s a weirdly almost ska version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer; the punk version of Jingle Bells is…worth checking out; and his rendition of Feliz Navidad is exactly as you would imagine it to be.

Charli XCX & Troye Sivan – 1999

Tim: Charli XCX, creator of fine pop music. Troye Sivan, likewise. Should be a good song, then, as long was you’re up for some nostalgia?

Tim: And actually, despite a rocky start which was getting me all ready to be disappointed, I got on bored fairly soon. I think it was the first ‘ooooh’ that made it – although the backing didn’t get any less brash, it did provide a slightly gentle jumping on point, and from then on I could absolutely cope with it. Not going to come out and say I actively like it, mind – I’m all for a bit of nostalgia, but however much of a state we might be right now, things are definitely better overall – but musically at least, I can deal with it.

Keala Settle, Kesha & Missy Elliott – This Is Me

“This… is not an improvement”

Tim: So here’s a fun thing: since The Greatest Showman is so brilliant, and the soundtrack is still an amazing album, they’ve done a new version of it, getting big name artists to do their own versions of the songs, and called it The Greatest Showman: Reimagined. Some of them sound basically identical; some are considerably less good; there’s also this. (You may want to reacquaint yourself with the original first.)

Tom: I remember describing the original as “so polished you could slip on it and crack your head”. And this… is not an improvement, I don’t think?

Tim: Me neither. It took me by surprise when I was just listening to the album, as I’m sure you’d expect, and to be honest I really don’t know how well it works. I certainly get what they were going for, but is it just me, or does the rapping hang around for too long? The second part works a little bit better, because halfway through you’ve got some backing vocals coming in halfway through, but I can’t help feeling this might be a little bit improved with that first part only lasting half as long.

Tom: Possibly, but if you’re going to get actual Missy Elliott in to be on the track, you want to get your money’s worth.

Tim: Fair, but at least chop it in two, and put the second half after the first chorus – as it is, coming right at the beginning after a very short intro and with no indicator when it might stop, it just seems to drag a bit, before the meat of the song comes along. Just me?

Tom: Not just you.

Brother Leo – Push Up

“Look, love, I know you’re interested, so do you wanna just get over here or what?”

Tim: “Look, love, I know you’re interested, so do you wanna just get over here or what?”

Tom: This sounds like an interesting track.

Tom: Well, that sounds uncomfortably like Blurred Lines in places, doesn’t it? I mean, not in the message, thankfully, but it feels like there’s at least a little inspiration there. Or at least, the same inspiration that Blurred Lines got sued for.

Tim: Yeah, and it’s not often I find myself really, really liking this genre of music. The funky, soul type stuff (which is apparently what this is inspired by) has never really got me going much, and I downright hated Blurred Lines. Every now and again, though, a track like this will come along that I just really enjoy, and think “ooh, this is fun”. Because it is, isn’t it? The message in the lyrics and the video both help a lot, I think, adding to the fun vibe that it’s got going on throughout, and all round it’s just pretty…nice.

Tom: “Nice” can be damning with faint praise. For me, it is: there’s a lot to like here, it’s just not quite my cup of tea. You sure you want to go with “nice”?

Tim: Oh, well not when you put it like that. Better than nice. Certainly relistenable.