Not all Christmas albums are, well, cynical cash-ins (yeah, Katherine Jenkins, we’re looking at you. Mind you, it’s hard not to if you push the button marked ITV 1). There are some with a touch of seasonal soul, and a sprinkling of genuine mid-winter warmth – honourable mentions to Sufjan Stevens, Darlene Love, The Beach Boys’ Christmas album, James Brown’s Funky Christmas and Ella Fitzgerald’s Swinging Christmas. Oh, and, of course, the Phil Spector Christmas Gift For You album. You never get tired of hearing that. Even if it does remind you of the fuzzy-headed murderer. Happy Christmas!
In the end, though, as an antidote to stuff that’s surrounding us from every Tescos checkout, we present seven Christmas albums that we rather like, and you don’t hear all that often.
LOW – Christmas
Full of wistful, lo-fi wonder, and brittle shards of icy pop (‘On our way from Stockholm/ Started to snow/ And you said it was like Christmas/ But you were wrong/ It wasn’t like Christmas at all’) they whisper on the opener, recently covered by our own Dan Croll. And they’re right. This is as special – and spectral – as silent snowfall. And talking of which…
KATE BUSH – 50 Words For Snow
Yes, not entirely Christmas, but unlike her out-and-out paean the holiday season, December Will Be Magic, Bush’s Mercury-nommed latest outing is a magisterial meditation on the white stuff: set to a subtle soundscape of falling snow: occasionally whipped up into a Himalayan frenzy on her lovesong to the Yeti, Wild Man. Gorgeous.
THAT FUZZY FEELING – Various Artists
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No filler on this winsome compilation from a few years back – with glitchy electronica, fidgety beats and snow-gazey wonder all present and correct. Fuzzy Lights’ Snowstorm in a Snowglobe is the sound of ice crystals creeping across your windowpane, while you sip a sherry by the open fire. Honestly, it is. While contributions from Ellis Island Sound, Sean O’ Hagan, Rothko & The Sleeping Years and Hauschka ratchet up the lofi ambience.
A VERY SPECIAL CHRISTMAS – Various Artists
“It’s Christmas time, we got the spirit…” chime Run-DMC on this, the first and best out of the Very Special Christmas stable. Originally put out by Jimmy Irvine to benefit the Special Olympics, the album is a who’s who of 1980s A-listers like the Pretenders, the Eurythmics, Stevie Nicks, Whitney Houston and Madonna, and a live Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band. An evergreen compilation.
SMITH AND BURROWS – Funny Looking Angels
Who’d have thought it: Editors frontman and Razorlight drummer Andy Burrows combine to make reflective, pared down Christmas-themed album, with bluesy bar-room piano, muted Salvation Army brass bands and haunting mood pieces such as the delicious When The Thames Froze (and there’s even a look-in for The Longpigs’ ‘On and On’). A quiet treat.
AIMEE MANN – One More Drifter
Aimee’s plaintive, stoner voice is the perfect antidote to the well-trodden Christmas tune. In her hands (and with the help of a jaunty, Vaudevillian oompah percussion, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen sounds crystalline and perky). It’s mostly a downtempo, downhome affair, with the inspired curveball of You’re A Mean One Mister Grinch raising a rare smile.
ZE – Christmas Album
The birthplace of the Waitresses evergreen classic, Christmas Wrapping, A Christmas Record 1981 is a New Wave mutant disco evergreen all its own, too. From James White’s Christmas WIth Satan to Was Not Was and Kid Creole’s August Darnell’s more tuneful contributions, this is the other side of 1981’s telescope to Wham’s Last Christmas. And guess which one has aged better?
Oh, sorry, we forgot…The Mariah Carey Merry Christmas album