It’s that time of year again. The nights are drawing in. Department store wage slaves in reindeer horns wander the tinsel-lined halls listlessly. Kids pressure ashen-faced parents into shelling out on overpriced slabs of moulded plastic. And as the commercial beast that is the festive season grinds into life, masking its ravenous greed behind the cheery mask of goodwill to all men, the shelves begin to heave under thousands of tons of soulless seasonal blackmail. Buy me, Scrooge, screams every devilish festive charm. BUY ME.
So to ‘XFM – It’s A Cool, Cool Christmas’: a Christmas record and, oh yes, a charidee record. You’re forgiven if those finely-honed instincts scream ‘destroy’. But wait – this is more than just a convenient way of relieving guilt in one cheap spurt of benevolence. Inspired by the spellbinding grace of Low’s ‘Christmas’ LP, compiled by the folks at London alternative radio station XFM, and with all proceeds going straight back to the streets via The Big Issue, this record comes as highly recommended as charity records can; that is, it’s actually worth owning.
The real strength of ‘….Cool, Cool Christmas’ lies not in its supposed credibility but in the broadness of its palette. After all, how many Christmas compilations could get away with fielding a song as splendidly named as Giant Sand’s, ‘Thank You Dreaded Black Ice, Thank You’, or spin off on a perversely Hawaiian tip, as does Morgan’s ‘Christmas in Waikiki’? As one might expect, this eclecticism leads to a jumbled, often playful stocking; certainly, Grandaddy seem well aware of the shameless novelty that pervades this genre, kicking off the album with ‘Alan Parsons In A Winter Wonderland’ – all bubbling synths and parping electronics, a tongue-in-cheek dedication to the prog-wizard himself. Even Eels seem to be having the time of their life, as they scissor-kick their way through the spirited ‘Everything’s Gonna Be Cool This Christmas’.
Beneath the brightly-coloured wrapping paper, though, ‘…Cool, Cool Christmas’ fields actual content: Stuart Murdoch takes to the church pews on Belle & Sebastian’s quite lovely take on ‘O Come, O Come, Emmanuel’ and Six by Seven’s hissed sarcastic ‘I Believe in Father Christmas’ is the ultimate ‘Bah! Humbug!’ moment, nestled under the tree like a gift-wrapped bomb.
The only real disappointment is The Flaming Lips’ take on ‘White Christmas (Demo For Tom Waits)’. Were the Lips to record an entirely straight version of ‘White Christmas’, a la their live rendition of ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’. They’d have recorded the greatest surefire Christmas Number One ever. Alas, this version’s a little too echo-laden and Therein-heavy to hold out much hope of toppling Sir Cliff. Still, we can dream.
A mixed sack, then, but in the spirit of the season, there’s something for everyone. ‘XFM-It’s A Cool, Cool Christmas’ might be a novelty, but it’s not one you’ll regret by Boxing Day.
You can bet bands like Grandaddy and the Flaming Lips love Christmas, cos they probably experience it with the same glee as they did as young children, asking for shed loads of toys and even agreeing to wear that obligatory dodgy jumper from Auntie Doris.
Consequently, it’s no surprise it’s their Stars Of Bethlehem that shine brightest here.
That both bands approach the task with tongues firmly placed in cheeks only adds to the charm of, in Grandaddy’s case, ‘Alan Parsons In A Winter Wonder Land’, and for the Flaming Lips, a drugged out ‘White Christmas’.
Other highlights include The Eels ‘Everything’s Gonna Be Cool This Christmas’, Giant Sands ‘Thank You Dreaded Black Ice, Thank You’, and Departure Lounge’s ‘Christmas Downer’, all of which give you a warm Christmas glow. And full marks to Lauren Laverne, whose ‘In The Bleak Midwinter’ certainly scores highest on the weird-o-meter.
The only people who apparently miss the point are Morgan, Big Boss Man, El Vez and The Webb Brothers, who’ve all chosen to record their tracks in a way which makes them sound about as Christmassy as a sandcastle.
Overall it’s Winter Warmers 17, Old Scrooges 4, and an album well worth investing in.
The (almost) perfect Christmas present.