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.

Owl City – Humbug

“Mr City’s been off for a while doing other stuff.”

Tim: Mr City’s been off for a while doing other stuff, but now he’s back to tell us about a problem he’s got.

Tom: So here’s the thing, Tim: I am not Christmassy this year. At all. Zero. I’ve had bad years in the past, but this is a new one: I’ve got absolutely no Christmas spirit. So I’m not expecting to…

Tom: …huh. That actually made me smile. That’s a surprise.

Tim: Well there you go – a festive treat, with an issue we can all relate to, lyrics to crack a smile here and there, and closing with a shout-out to, of all people, Magnus Carlsson! (Yes it definitely is a deliberate reference, no it definitely isn’t a coincidence, I don’t care how enormously unlikely it is that it would be a deliberate reference, I AM CERTAIN THAT IT IS.)

Tom: Mate, if the ‘Wrecking Ball’ ripoff yesterday wasn’t deliberate, I’m guessing this isn’t either.

Tim: Not listening, can’t hear you. One issue, though: if he really loves her but doesn’t know which of two restaurants she prefers, I’m sure something’s gone a bit wrong somewhere in the standard dating process. But never mind.

Tom: The lyrics are terrible. Can we just agree that the lyrics are terrible?

Tim: Yes, though I would direct you to the very first sentence you wrote about Good Time, and also your remarks on Alligator Sky. Complexity isn’t his strong point, you should expect that by now.

Tom: But you know what, the rest of the song is happy enough that I actually don’t mind. And, hell, “sorry for the hand towels” is actually a lovely little descant to put at the end.

Tim: It really is, and I’ll take this, because the lyrics may be dodgy, but they’re fun, and jingly, and lovely.

Saturday Flashback: Gregorian – A Spaceman Came Travelling

“You remember Gregorian.”

Tim: You remember Gregorian – they’re from Germany, and typically do covers of songs in a medieval chanting style.

Tom: For once, I actually do remember them. They… left an impression.

Tim: You’ll be ASTOUNDED to hear that they’ve made a Christmas album, cunningly entitled Christmas Chants. It’s hard to pick a stand-out track, largely because most of them are tedious and forgettable.

Tom: Like almost all Christmas songs. And almost all novelty Gregorian chant covers.

Tim: Cynical, but very true. However, there are a couple of gems on there. Try this.

Tim: It’s safe to say this has always been a somewhat ridiculous (albeit excellent) track, what with the whole reimagining of Jesus being from space, and the idea that something weird like God aliens impregnating a woman does indeed happen every couple of thousand years (genuinely, it came from a poem and everything).

Tom: I think my main complaint about this track is the phrase “light years of time”. Light years are a distance, damn it.

Tim: Top marks for pedantry. Reimagining the song as a Gregorian chant (which it definitely is and I won’t have you convince me any other way) doesn’t really do anything to change the ridiculousness – in fact, the ah-ah-ah-ah-etc almost sounds more suited here than with Chris de Burgh’s original, which basically amounts to yelling.

Tom: If you ignore the lyrics, it almost sounds like a genuine religious chant. I’ll give them that. But aside from that: just no.

Tim: Either way, though, guess we need to start preparing for those aliens.

Cruz Beckham – If Everyday Was Christmas

“It’s all downhill from there.”

Tim: I finished off yesterday’s post with “nice work, everyone”. SPOILER ALERT: I won’t be saying that today.

Tom: The first few seconds are promising. And then there’s those autotuned “ooohs”. And it’s all downhill from there.

Tim: Now, I have no problem with people getting a leg up from famous parents – the world is a better place for having Wrecking Ball in it, for example – but, there has to be some notable talent there to begin with. This? This just sounds like he’s said “Dad, Brooklyn got to hang out with The Vamps, why I can’t do stuff like that?” and David said “oh, we’ve got loads of cash, hire a recording studio.”

Tom: I have a feeling that a few more managers and agents were involved than that, but yes, that’s not an unlikely story.

Tim: The output is bland, the lyrics are stupid (think about what Christmas every day would actually be like), and…

Tom: I mean, that didn’t stop Wizzard, and there have been enough hackneyed comedy routines about that already. You’re right that it’s bland — but that’s not stopped lots of other songs before. And while I agree that, overall, this is not a particularly good song, I will admit to actually liking the first three lines of the chorus.

Tim: Hmm…

Tom: I can’t believe I’m defending any of this song, but seriously: those three lines are really nice.

Tim: Well, I suppose technically you’re right, but I can’t help thinking, with the line ending “…with you”, that the song was written for someone else, maybe someone who’s not so young they’ve never been around for a decent Spider-Man film – and that someone else may well have done a more listenable recording of it.

To be honest, I can’t really think of any reason this version of this song exists other than to make one single toddler happy. And surely, that’s not why we should have music.

Matt Terry – When Christmas Comes Around

“Hmm, bit damp.”

Tim: Halfway through December, we’ve finally got a new Christmas track worth looking at! Matt won X Factor at the weekend, and became the first winner since Shane Ward back in 2005 to have an original single to release, in this case written by, and sounding like it was written by, Ed Sheeran.

Tom: That was so promising until those last two words.

Tim: So I caught up on the final, and my first thought when he started singing was “hmm, bit damp”.

Tom: You’re not wrong.

Tim: The drop into the chorus, for a start, is nowhere near what I wanted – so I picked my iPad up and started scrolling through Twitter and the like, and a minute or so later I realised that actually, I quite liked it.

Tom: It’s got that typical Ed Sheeran cadence in it that I’ve just taken against: lots of quickfire rhymes with a really simple rhythm all within one line. Lin-Manuel Miranda can pull that off. Ed Sheeran… well, it doesn’t seem to work quite so well.

Tim: It’s no big Christmas banger, obviously, but it’s not designed to be – it’s a have on in the background when you’re chatting around the table after a Christmas meal type song. And for that, I actually really like it.

Tom: I’m just not sold. 2000 Miles fits that description. Stay Another Day fits that description. This is neither of those songs. Actually, those are both songs written for people who’d died, so maybe that’s what this song is missing: death.

Tim: You know, I’m really not sure about that being a Christmas message I want in general. Instead, I’ll good with my view: nice work, everyone.

Saturday Flashback: Backstreet Boys – It’s Christmas Time Again

“It seems more like they wanted to do a Christmas song.”

Tim: It’s December, I’m waking up to sub-zero temperatures, and Christmas tracks are all out in force, so LET’S JOIN IN, but we’ll begin with a Yuletide tale of days gone by.

Tom: And I’ll provide a bit of context for our new reader: over December, Tim sends me Christmas tracks. I’m a lot more cynical about Christmas music than he is. Actually, I’m a lot more cynical about many things than he is, but here it’s just a bit more obvious.

Tim: And every year, I change to change his mind. So, waaaaaaaaay way back when, in their 1996 heyday, Backstreet Boys did a Christmas song, Christmas Time. It was typical Backstreet Boys ballad and, much like *NSync’s one, was ill-advised and generally a bit shit.

Tom: That’s 99% of Christmas music right there.

Tim: Sixteen years later, though, when they got back together they decided to have another go, with a pleasing self-referential title.

Tim: And that’s one that’s really not shit. It seems more like they wanted to do a Christmas song, rather than were just told “you need to do a Christmas song so we can release a Christmas version of this album”.

Tom: It’s not like they just took an old track and added some sleigh bells over the top. It’s actually not all that bad, is it?

Tim: I don’t know if it’s partly just because I’m judging it from a 2016 perspective – 20 years ago the first may have seemed perfectly acceptable – but this is just so much more fun. More life, more instruments, more general bangingness…

Tom: Excuse me?

Tim: You heard. Quite surprised I’ve never used that word before, to be honest. Still, though, they’re keeping in all the standard bells, chimes and twinkliness of a typical track.

Tom: And some incredibly unflattering artwork. But yes, I’ll grant you, this is at least above average as Christmas tracks go.

Tim: Ah, we’re off to a good start then. Incidentally, what first drew my attention to this was the fact that the typically reliable Ida LaFontaine covered it last year; it’s not on YouTube, tediously, but is very much worth seeking out on Spotify or Apple Music or indeed any other musical provider, whatever floats your festive boat.