There’s nothing remotely rock ‘n’ roll about Christmas, yet that doesn’t seem to stop bands from wrapping themselves in tinsel and singing jolly songs about Santa, white Christmases, and holy nights. The Killers enjoy a Christmas song. Phil Spector released one of the seminal albums of Christmas cheer. The Spice Girls ruled Christmas Day for three years, even now making me think of that time whenever I hear 2 Become 1. Sometimes, I even let the spirit of Christmas possess me. Yes, I don’t mind the sparkles, tinsel, trees, and bright colours. The television schedule improves and Costa do their wonderful Black Forest Gateau hot chocolate around this time of year.
Something else I look forward to at this time of year is listening to Ze Records’ iconic A Christmas Record. It’s an oddity, but then so was Ze Records, a strange hip label from New York whose roster read like a list of the coolest, weirdest, deeply avant artists to ever record pop music, or their version of pop music. James Chance/James White And The Blacks. Cristina Monet *whose iconic Sleep It Off is going to be a future post here*. Kid Creole. Was (Not Was). Lizzy Mercier Descloux. Alan Vega of Suicide. All of them released music through Ze Records and most of them took part in A Christmas Record, which makes it possibly the most anomalous festive album ever unleashed on the public. But in the world created by Ze Records, the sounds cultivated by the owners and tastemakers of the label, it all makes perfect sense. If you want to hear Suicide perform a Christmas song, you can listen right now. It sounds exactly how you would expect it to sound.
The artists at the label were asked to contribute a song and each of them tackled the challenge in different ways. The Waitresses had a quiet iconic moment with their version of Christmas Wrapping. Was (Not Was) put foward a song called Christmas Day, an overdramatic spoken word song that sounds like Eels if Mark did Queen karaoke. Christmas with Satan by No Wave legend and player of the saxophone, James Chance, is a frantic and discordant racket. It’s perfect. Imagine a British Legion orchestra getting tanked on beer and performing a gig in the middle of a snowy street and you’ll have some idea how the song sounds. It tells of suicide and a get together with the devil. Merry Christmas! Lisi’s My Silent Night is grimly bleak, her voice deadpan as electro beats kick the shit out of each verse. Material go for a funky attempt at a Christmas song with It’s A Holiday. It doesn’t sound too festive, but somehow the song still holds up to a modern ear.
The angel on the top of the tree is one of my favourite Christmas songs ever. Things Fall Apart by Cristina is arch, miserable, sarcastic, catchy, and hilarious. A depressive take on a traditional festive anthem, it tells a story as only Cristina could of urban decay set to a music box jingle, sharp guitar chords, and gloomy synths. This is a Christmas where trees are victims of corporate manslaughter, people cry while feeind their cats, while being dumped by their boyfriends. Also, there’s no white Christmas. It’s raining instead. Mariah Carey’s take on Christmas this most certainly is not.
Ultimately, the reason I love this album is because it treats Christmas with respect, but also a healthy dollop of cynicism, as though the artists involved were all very aware that beneath the sparkle, the glitter of the tinsel, there’s too many pitfalls about Christmas that we choose to ignore just so we can smile in the cold. Debt, animal cruelty, loneliness, and episodes of Mrs Brown’s Boys. In that respect, Ze Records knew that Christmas deserved a suitable tribute, which is exactly what they gave their listeners.