Christmas Flashback: Feuerherz – Merry Christmas

Tom: We started out this Christmas season with three songs in a row that actually made me feel a bit festive. It’s been all downhill since then. Tim: this is your last chance. What’ve you got?

Tim: Ah, um, well, I’ll be honest: this might not be your cup of tea. HOWEVER, although there’s no real song this year that screams “this belongs on Christmas Day”, this one really really does. Feuerherz are a German band with members from multiple nations, and released this a couple of years back; hopefully you’re up to date on your English, German, Italian and Dutch.

Tom: I think there’s a little bit of Spanish in there as well? I’d have been more impressed if they managed to rhyme across languages, but sure, okay, I get the spirit of this.

Tim: Now, I didn’t mention this in the intro for fear of overselling it, but is it just me or does this have elements of Basshunter in it?

Tom: What? … where?

Tim: Specifically, the backing underneath the second half of each verse and the choruses, which put me in such a mind of his stuff that I couldn’t help liking the rest of it, however much the harmonies make it sound like a crap JLS ballad.

Tom: Okay, so now I feel better about it, because “crap JLS ballad” was pretty much what I was going to say here.

Tim: Yeah. It may be a dated reference but every year I think of JB’s beautiful greeting and well up with joy (and there’s an outstanding key change if you keep listening to that). Back to this, though, and you’re not missing much if you’re not fluent in all four languages, as they basically say exactly the same thing: to all our friends, Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year.

Tom: This song doesn’t actually help me with that sentiment at all, but hopefully the rest of the world feels different. Merry Christmas, everyone.

Saturday Flashback: Same Difference – All I Want For Christmas Is You

“That’s remarkable.”

Tim: Not a single release, but an X Factor performance, a full ten years ago. The performance that opened the show. What a beauty.

Tim: What a beauty.

Tom: That is… well, that’s remarkable. It feels like it comes from the early 90s, but I just looked it up and it turns out that was 2007.

Tim: Oh, yes indeed. I won’t argue, there are some misguided moments here – Sean’s groin thrusting isn’t really something many people wanted to see having their tea on a Saturday night (though I’m not complaining), what those elves are doing 40 seconds in is anyone’s guess, and there’s a reason we’ve skipped the first thirteen seconds – but otherwise, oh, it’s just pure festive pop joy.

Flying up into the air to switch on the lights; throwing glitter, camp as you like; being lifted onto the shoulders of elves to mark the key change; the winner’s confetti coming down several hours early; oh, it’s all just lovely.

Tom: Special shoutout for both of them managing to throw their glitter late, and thus making the camera operator miss the pyrotechnics — thus making it look like there’s been a minor electrical explosion on the stage, rather than any sort of Christmas magic.

Tim: Oh, but we all know deep down that it is true Christmas magic. They don’t make X Factor like this any more, and damn it’s a shame.

Sia – Ho Ho Ho

“Why the FLIPPING HECK wasn’t this the lead on the album?”

Tom: A whole album. A whole Christmas album. Why. Why would anyone bother to do that, other than as a cheap cash-in?

Tim: I don’t know, I mean she’s certainly not the first artist to do that – Kylie Minogue, Gwen Stefani and Kelly Clarkson are three that immediately spring to mind. The only difference here is that all ten tracks are original, and to be honest I’d say that’s almost something to be applauded, rather than labelled “cheap cash-in”.

But anyway, I was playing yesterday’s track while writing about it, and I saw this in YouTube’s sidebar, and much as I didn’t enjoy her Christmas offering we featured last week, I figured I’d give this one the benefit of the doubt. Can’t be much worse, can it?

Tim: OH BLOODY HELL that’s good, and why the FLIPPING HECK wasn’t this the lead on the album?

Tom: First things first, I’ma say all the words inside my head“. Sorry, what were you saying?

Tim: Oh, GOD, that’s what it reminds me of, AARGH. But beside that, it’s fun, it’s got a great video (albeit not one that bears any relation whatsoever to the song), and it starts off requesting alcohol. Because yes, Christmas is indeed about having parties, getting pissed, and so what if people are misfits? Let’s all get together and have a good time. But most importantly of all: this is a modern track.

Tom: I mean, yes, but I’m having trouble coming up with anything interesting to say about it. It’s just… I think I’m starting to get burned out on Sia’s voice singing about Christmas.

Tim: It’s a song that’s not far off what I’d expect Sia to produce on a standard day. It’s just great, and so, so much better than that other one.

Tom: Imagine if all the effort for the album had gone into one spectacular track instead.

Tim: Hmm. Okay, maybe you have a point there.

Bright Light Bright Light & Nerina Pallot – Put A Little Love In Your Heart

“You don’t necessarily need festive lyrics to have a great Christmas song.”

Tim: Mr Light Bright Light is another one with a Christmas EP out this year, comprising six covers of songs from Christmas movies; this is the only one on YouTube. and for anyone who doesn’t know the connection, the Annie Lennox cover of the original 1960s track is from the Scrooged soundtrack.

Tim: For me, that starts good and just keeps getting better. Sure, it’s clearly a cover of an 80s song, but it’s a damned good song, such a lovely duet.

Tom: It is, although — and I’m well aware that this is down to personal preference rather than anything in the production here — it’s a song that I don’t actually like. I can’t explain why, the lyrics are just a bit too trite, the melody just a bit too Playdays.

Tim: Hmm, I get where you’re coming from – and if you don’t like the saccharine of the original, this isn’t going to be an improvement. Looking at it from my view, though: we’re not kept waiting too long for that lovely textbook key change, and the sax that comes in towards the end just adds that little bit more. Sure, there’s nothing seasonal in the lyrics – the original was released in June – but as we saw with Love Me Like You, you don’t necessarily need festive lyrics to have a great Christmas song. And I reckon this is.

Tom: Yep, if I try and treat this with a bit of objectivity, there’s little to complain about: the production’s spot-on.

Tim: In that case I’d suggest for you another cover, and one that’s also entirely devoid of festive lyrics: Siouxsie & the Banshees’s Face To Face, from the Batman Returns soundtrack; that’s on the EP as well. It’s wonderfully Christmassed up, and is so weird but also so great, so check that out.

Saturday Flashback: Emmy the Great & Tim Wheeler – Home for the Holidays

“That string section is just wonderful.”

Tom: I have no idea how I’ve never heard this track before. It’s absolutely lovely. But I warn you: it’s a song that gets worse each time you listen to it, so before you read any further, have a listen through.

Tim: Okay, but I’ll be very upset if you’re about to ruin it for me.

Tim: Hmm, seems quite nice to me, aside from Tim in the video looking glum, as if he’s only just realised that Ash’s glory days are well and truly behind him.

Tom: Let me explain why I think it’s lovely: the message is exactly a mixture of optimistic and nostalgic: “did you ever make it out of here” is something that anyone who’s gone back to their old hometown for Christmas can relate to. And that string section is just wonderful.

Tim: Agreed, on all three counts.

Tom: It passes both of my Good Pop Tests: after listening to it only once, not only I could hum the chorus (which they opened the song with!), but I immediately wanted to hear it again.

Tim: Good, we’re in alignment, it’s a nice song. Shall we leave it there?

Tom: And that’s when I notice that there are things to dislike here.

Tim: Oh.

Tom: The football-chant clapping in the verses starts to grate after a while, and whoever decided to include sleigh bells in the same rhythm needs to have a long think about what they did. After a while, it’s all I can hear: this song would be so much better with, well, basically any other standard percussion here.

Tim: Hmmmm…all true, technically, but what you’ve really described here is just all the clichés that typically come with a standard Christmas song. Sure, they might get trying (particularly now you’ve pointed them out to me), but I do at least prefer that to what might otherwise be a boring 2-4 beat clap.

Tom: I also have two notes on the video. First: that shot of Tim Wheeler singing while staring awkwardly into the distance really doesn’t need to be used as much as you think it does. Or at all.

Tim: Smiling would help, just a notch.

Tom: And second: wow, those couples must have had to kiss for a long, long time for those final shots.

Tim: Oh, well at least we’re finishing on a happy note.

Gwen Stefani feat. Blake Shelton – You Make It Feel Like Christmas

“When my foot starts automatically tapping along to a song, I figure that’s a good sign.”

Tim: Gwen, who we all know (and who I was astounded to learn the other day is nearly 50), and Blake, her boyfriend who was apparently recently named the sexiest man alive – who knew? This here, the title track from her new Christmas album, and damn is it a good one.

Tom: So I’ve gained an appreciation of country-pop lately, and bloody hell, does Blake Shelton have a perfect voice for it. And you can feel its influence here: that introduction is very much half Shelton’s country, half Stefani’s pop. Plus, there are actual religious references in the chorus — that’s all country.

Tim: This, unlike yesterday, does have something. Well, not one thing in particular, but a collection: it’s fast, it’s bouncy, it’s a nice back and forth duet, and all in all it’s just…good.

Tom: When my foot starts automatically tapping along to a song, I figure that’s a good sign. All the elements here are really basic — that bassline is decades old, for starters — but they’re used perfectly. And it’s only two and a half minutes, which is exactly as long as it needs to be.

Tim: It’s got a great vibe to it, and while the sense and feelings are there very much as they were yesterday, this does so much more with them, and gives us a song that I actually really do want to hear again, and again, and again.

Tom: I don’t think it’s going to enter the Canon of Christmas Songs, but it’ll do nicely for this year.

Wiktoria – Not Just For Xmas

“It is extremely Christmassy”

Tim: I don’t know if you remember, but last year we only had about three or four Christmas songs throughout the whole month. This year seems to be more than making up for that, because boy oh boy do they just keep coming. Here, we’ve Wiktoria’s first Christmas track. And for early reassurance: she doesn’t pronounce it ‘Xmas’.

Tim: Gosh, that’s jolly, to the possible extent that, I will accept, it may be a tad (lot) sickening if you’re not in the mood.

Tom: I have to admit: it is extremely Christmassy, although I’m not sure whether that’s just because it’s regular schlager with a few bells added to it. And, let’s be honest, a really good voice.

Tim: Right, and if one is in the mood, then it really is all lovely and jolly, isn’t it? Though, that’s true of a whole lot of Christmas songs, really, and much as I’d love to say there’s something here that stands out…well, there isn’t.

Tom: It kept reminding me of some other Christmas song, and I couldn’t quite place it for such a long time — but that’s because the other song’s from a completely different genre. Ladies, gentlemen, and all those in between: Fountains of Wayne. The chord progression and cadence in that chorus are just close enough.

Tim: Hmmm…stretching that a bit, but I get where you’re coming from, and thanks for reminding me of it because it’s a good amount of fun. This, though, is a track that’ll go on a Christmas playlist, sure (which is more than I can say for that Sia one) – just, not really anywhere near the top.

Saturday Flashback: Magnus Carlsson & Jessica Andersson – En stilla väntan

“I’m a sucker for a good male/female duet”

Tim: So this is one I really wanted to feature last year, but held off doing in case a proper video ever appeared; twelve months on, that’s seeming unlikely, so here’s a live version.

Tim: Upsettingly, I’ve no idea at all what the song’s about – can’t find any lyrics online, and I can’t even find a decent title translation that makes sense. On the other hand, it sounds bloody lovely, as I’m a sucker for a good male/female duet, and with those gorgeous strings rolling around in the background it’s giving me nice memories of Tor & Bettan, a Reject that’s still up in my top ten as a frequent listen.

Tom: Huh. For me, it’s just… well, it’s background music, really. Apart from that instrumental bit coming out of the chorus that sounds a bit like the theme tune to The Champions. Why do you like it so much?

Tim: This is a beautiful song, particularly with the rhythm in that wonderfully strong chorus, topped off with that lovely middle eight, and I really do love it.

Sia – Santa’s Coming For Us

“I don’t want to press play on a new Sia track and hear a jazz track from last century.”

Tim: Well, that’s an ominous title.

Tom: Blimey, it is and all, isn’t it? Anyway, as I mentioned the other day, Sia’s got a Christmas album out, and here’s the lead single from it.

Tom: Full marks for a video where I said “wait, is that…” multiple times.

Tim: Now, I hate – absolutely despise – the fact that in terms of classic Christmas songs, and as we found out with Avril Lavigne, America has never really got past the 1950s. White Christmas, Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, Baby It’s Cold Outside, It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year, all stuck in the middle of last century, and so a massive, massive proportion of modern Christmas songs over there feel they have to take that sound and run with it.

In Britain we got a resurgence in the 70’s and 80’s and now pretty much anything goes; Scandinavia’s got people chucking out new ones every year as a matter of course; but America’s never properly moved on. I don’t want to press play on a new Sia track and hear a jazz track from last century, with a video that’s seemingly designed to look like a 1980s sitcom, I want a modern track.

Tom: The 1980s sitcom, I don’t mind, I think this is actually a bit more modern than you give it credit for — I think you may have just forgotten that “last century” is now 17 years ago.

Tim: No, but this is 1950s stuff. I also want more that just one line repeated six times in the chorus – man, Sia’s meant to be one of the greatest songwriter’s around right now, so why have Hanson – bloody Hanson – managed to produce a better track?

Tom: And there you’ve got a very strong point. The phrase “cynical cash-in” is wafting through the air somewhere, but I couldn’t possibly comment.

Avril Lavigne & Jonny Blue – Baby It’s Cold Outside

“BOOM QUIET NOW I MUST SING OVER YOU.”

Tom: I know this song is problematic, to say the least. I know there’s debate over whether the lyrics are really creepy or actually charming in context. I know that it’s been deconstructed plenty of times.

Tim: My biggest problem with it is that, like all traditional American Christmas songs that date from the 1950s, it’s just really quite boring.

Tom: Well, there is the Tom Jones and Cerys Matthews version, which I once heard described as “Grandad seducing Minnie Mouse”.

Tim: Well then that’s now on my ‘watch later’ list, but is this one a bit interesting?

Tom: This version — which is startling traditional version, given the words “Avril Lavigne” there — is the most frustrating song I’ve heard in a while.

Tom: Why is Jonny Blue always starting his line early? Avril’s barely got two words into her bar before BOOM QUIET NOW I MUST SING OVER YOU. It’s a duet, not a bloody competition.

Tim: Yeah, it does kind of remind me of the Battle round on The Voice – ostensibly to judge who can sound better in a duet, but quickly degrades into a shouting match which isn’t really pleasant for anyone. This isn’t so bad, but your point still stands. And they haven’t even really made it interesting.