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.

Nicki French – Very Christmas

“Tom, I think…I think I’ve got you feeling festive.”

Tim: Nicki, star of that amazing Total Eclipse Of The Heart cover and Eurovision 2000, has joined Gwen Stefani, Kelly Clarkson and Sia in the list of ‘brilliant female soloists who have a Christmas album out this year’.

Tom: Quick question about this video: what’s the bloke in the background strumming on a guitar doing?

Tim: Just having a laugh, I think – it is, after all, “just a happy holiday”. And speaking of the video, in case you’re looking at that 5:38 running time with a look of horror on your face, you can safely start at 0:36 and switch it off after 3:40, as this is an extended version.

Tim: Hey, it’s festive 90’s dance pop! Or, alternatively, music that every year I try to persuade my parents to listen to, and every year without fail get utterly shot down.

Tom: Or even more alternatively, “the cash-in record”! This is the first one for this season that sounds exactly like someone’s just cobbled togeth… ah, damn it, my foot’s tapping. What the hell have you done, Tim?

Tim: Tom, I think…I think I’ve got you feeling festive. Let’s play this loud right now, and dance around like we just don’t care about anything except ALL THE FESTIVITIES. There’s not a huge amount to say about this, really, except that this is exactly what I would expect a Nicki French Christmas song to sound like, and is very enjoyable for it. Agree?

Tom: Yes. I agree. I don’t actually want to listen to it again, but I agree.

Jasmine Kara – Dear Mr Santa

“Basically she’s just asking Santa for a plane ticket.”

Tim: In which Jasmine sings a lot about snow, but seemingly doesn’t have the budget to do fake snow in the video. Oh well.

Tom: Sometimes the title of a song puts me off. This is one of those times.

Tom: Huh, that’s actually a half-decent song, despite the constant irritating sleigh bells that never go away once you notice them. You can stop them for a while, producer, we know it’s a Christmas track.

Tim: Now while the lyrics here would traditionally be interpreted as “we broke up, but I wish we were back together” in the standard lovey dovey vibe I mentioned yesterday, it’s apparently meant to be taken more literally – she’s stuck in America, her boyfriend’s in Sweden, and basically she’s just asking Santa for a plane ticket. Not quite as romantic, but thoroughly practical, so I’m fully on board (ha, accidental plane pun) with that.

Tom: It’s got enough “sounds like an old Christmas track” to it, while still being interesting. And those vocals are really, really good.

Tim: Musically I’d never really thought of a Motown-styled Christmas track, but it seems to work nicely, particularly with those vocals you mentioned. So me? I’m two for two, so far.

Tom: Agreed! You’ve sent two decent Christmas songs in a go here, what’s going on? Have my standards changed, or is there good music this year?

Tim: Well, kids, check back tomorrow to find out!

Hanson – Finally It’s Christmas

“Just. Celebrating. CHRISTMAS. And I love that.”

Tim: CHRISTMAS TIME, and Tom, you’ve only got yourself to blame for this – for some reason you decided that the very first post on this (ostensibly) Europop-based blog should be a Hanson track, and, well, revenge it seems is a dish best served wintry, so a Hanson track is what we’ve got to kick us off this season.

Tim: Though I say ‘revenge’, it’s actually not a remotely bad track.

Tom: Yeah, I was going to say…

Tim: They’ve had Christmas songs before — a whole album of covers and originals, in fact, 20 years ago, which makes me think the opening to this video might be a callback–

Tom: Callback? It’s literally from their own 1997 Christmas special, designed to promote that exact album!

Tim: Well I was about to say that it’ll take someone with more dedication than me to check that, so thanks.

Tom: …ah, damn. Anyway, I love how awkward they seem to be in the camera shots when they’re not singing here.

Tim: That is fun, isn’t it? I’ve got to say: this is a pretty good sound. The instrumental tropes are all out in force – tambourine jingling on every other beat, chiming bells dropping in and out – but it’s got fairly hefty rock vibes to it as well.

Tom: And a saxophone middle eight! I mean, this isn’t going to enter the pantheon of Classic Christmas Tracks or anything, but it’s a solid entry for this year.

Tim: Lyrically as well we’ve some good variation – it’s nice to have a change from the more usual “Christmas is time to be all lovey dovey”, because instead we’re Just. Celebrating. CHRISTMAS. And I love that. We’ve a good few tracks coming up, Tom, so let’s hope you’re as excited as I am.

Tom: Despite this song, Tim, it’s not Christmas yet — but this is one of the best openings we’ve had to our Christmas season in all the time we’ve been doing this. Nice try on the “revenge” thing, though.

Saturday Flashback: The Darkness – Christmas Time (Don’t Let The Bells End)

Tom: Tim, we should tell our reader about a bit of the behind-the-scenes discussions we’ve had this year. With Christmas Eve falling on a Saturday, we’ve been hunting for a Saturday Flashback that’s suitably… Christmassy enough.

Tim: Such as Sheena Easton’s It’s Christmas All Over The World, my first choice, as it’s perfect for Christmas Eve.

Tom: The trouble is, I’ve got zero Christmas spirit this year. You’ve sent me syrupy Christmas track after syrupy Christmas track, and while I could happily write a couple of hundred words ripping each of them apart, I just can’t bring myself to write anything positive. It’s rare for me to veto a track; to veto two in a row is entirely unheard of; but I killed three in a row here.

Tim: Reader, I’ve tried, I really have. It’s been distressing.

Tom: So I’ve suggested this. Because it’s simple: you can enjoy how Christmassy it is, and the fact that, unlike almost every other Christmas cash-in single, it’s actually pretty good. And I can shout the word “bell end” as loud as possible.

Tom: Merry Christmas, Tim.

Tim: Merry Christmas, Tom.

Lisa Ajax – Santa Bring My Baby To Me

Tim: Lisa, former Swedish Idol winner and Melodifestivalen finalist, brings us a festive number, presumably after having no luck on nights out and getting bored of Tinder.

Tom: Oh! Tim… I think this is the first really good Christmas track you’ve sent this year. You’ve saved the best for last. Well done. Heck of a voice, decent melody. As for the lyrics…

Tim: She dumped him a while ago, realises that actually she was being silly, and now wants him back, and has therefore turned to Santa to force him back rather than just, you know, asking him, like a normal person would. Still, who cares for free will and his feelings and stuff like that at this most wonderful time of the year?

Tom: It’s probably best not to analyse songs too much, particularly not at Christmas. I don’t think this is actually making me feel Christmassy, but… well, I don’t mind this right now, and that’s a pretty good start.

Tim: What we really care about is the song and the music, which is all pretty good – heck of a chorus in there, for starters, with an entirely decent voice and a proper mixture of tinkling and banging all mixed up together.

Tom: Shame about the middle eight, but it comes back with a brilliant final chorus and lovely whistle-register notes over the top, so I’ll forgive it.

Tim: So since Christmas lyrics are frequently nonsense anyway, I’m all in for this. SORTED.