Schmaltz has its limits while honest, heartfelt pop makes sense any time of the year, says Ed Power
Christmas is coming and all around little faces are lighting up with joy. We refer of course to the Black Friday-esque stampede of pop stars ho-ho-hoping to make a killing foisting seasonal albums upon us.
It features a stomping big band version of “Auld Lang Syne” that will make you question the existence of Santa Claus, God and innate human decency.
Also getting chilly with it is former Glee! star Lea Michele. Her Christmas In the City record includes a sprayed-in-treacle take on the Elsa and Anna two-hander “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?”. Because nothing says “Christmas” like a Disney dirge about spending your childhood imprisoned in the family castle while your parents drown at sea.
And that’s just the good stuff. Mariah Carey has released a super-sized 25th anniversary edition of her Merry Christmas album on the basis that a Mariah Carey Christmas album could always do with being even more over the top.
And you will have already asked Santa for Yuletide records by shouty football pundit Chris Kamara, Martin and Shirlie Kemp and Rob Halford of heritage headbangers Judas Priest.
As has been the case for at least the past 30 years, as Christmas approaches, so a thick white blanket of naff settles over pop. It’s as if December 25 was a plot by the music business to offload sackfuls of aural dross. The next time you see Father Christmas at a department store, try to find an excuse to whip off his beard. Chances are it’s just Simon Cowell in a fat suit.
‘The Victorians weren’t the best role-models, but you can’t argue with ‘Silent Night’’
The incredibly obvious point is that it wasn’t always so. The Victorians weren’t necessarily the best role-models, what with their empire building and flexible stance on child labour. But you can’t argue with “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” or “Silent Night”.
If Charles Dickens was around today, A Christmas Carol would probably be a three-disc concept LP starring Chris Martin as Tiny Tim and the reformed Sugababes as the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future.
The usual rejoinder is that all the best Christmas songs were written decades, if not centuries, ago. Thus the contemporary Christmas album faces an impossible task in competing with these stone-cold perennials. Yet that argument is easily demolished. To do so we need look no further than this year’s ickiest seasonal romcom.
Last Christmas has seen Mother Of Dragons Emilia Clarke burning up the box office despite terrible reviews. And yet the film somehow isn’t entirely unwatchable. The magic ingredient in the eggnog is obviously the George Michael tear-jerker for which it is named. He wrote “Last Christmas” in 1984, an epoch not exactly inured to seasonal tat. And yet the tune transcends tackiness and is correctly regarded as timeless.
The simple reason is that it brims with real emotion. The Wham! man isn’t roasting musical chestnuts, he’s singing from the depths of his soul, so that the Christmas component of “Last Christmas” is ultimately incidental. You could listen to it in July and it would still leave you in bits. Robbie, Idina and the gang should follow George Michael’s example and remember that schmaltz has its limits while honest, heartfelt pop makes sense any time of the year. What a Christmas miracle that would be.