(+1 Records, November 2010)
Well it is the season and we all go through the stages of Christmas grief. Anger, because the adverts are already being shown on TV in September. Denial, as October is too early to be putting up fairy lights along the street. Bargaining for more time as it slowly turns November. Then finally Acceptance, as December arrives with a red and white fluffy hat slap in the face. It all eventually catches up to us and every sorry stressful soul gets caught up in the frosty bliss of it all. For me it was a little delayed this year. As December began I was suffering from what felt like man flu, bird flu and swine flu all wrapped up in a wheezy little package. Even so it did finally hit me. Christmas.
Then it’s all excitement and smiles. The snow is not just a badly planned for natural disaster, it makes London look cute and magical. The shops may be suicidally chaotic but they’re filled with the promise of presents and a child’s laughter. The bombardment of Christmas jingles on adverts and music channels may be slowly turning me into a Shining-style psychopath, but you just have to sing along. I mean they’re so glam, so cheerful, so nostalgic and preposterous. So reliable and safe. Which brings me to The Boy Least Likely To’s latest tribute to this continuing and confusing legacy.
The Christmas Special is an album brewing with old fashioned cheer but also a dash of bitter sweet disappointment. Pete Hobbs and Jof Owen, the two members of The Boy Least Likely To, bring a fragile uncertainty to the concept of Christmas songs. They add a geek synth charm to some traditional carols whilst also constructing new playful melodies. Their aim is not to re-vamp Christmas, but to play to all our childlike fascinations with tinsel, snow, holly and repetitive lyrics that contain the words ‘tinsel’, ‘snow’ and ‘holly’.
Encouraging Christmas jollity, their overall goal is of course to have these songs played year in and year out and then eventually a wealthy retirement. My own mother clocked this strategy when my brothers and I were toddlers. “Ruth,” she said “release a Christmas single that’s catchy and stupid and you’ll be set for life”. I mean it worked for The Darkness and they didn’t even get to number one, beaten by the emotastic ‘Mad World’ cover. Yet The Boy Least Likely To have already released a Christmas single, last year it was ‘The First Snowflake’ (also on this Christmas Special). I guess if at first you don’t succeed… release a Christmas themed album.
You have to give these guys some credit, it’s a gutsy manoeuvre. Sentimental, gushy and cheesy as all hell, but nevertheless the album is brave. The songs themselves are also sentimental, gushy and cheesy and not at all brave. They tap into each person’s well of Christmas nostalgia, hoping there is enough to last a whole album. As you may have been able to tell, my well went dry, some miners went to see what happened, they got trapped and now a movie is being made about it. My Christmas nostalgia is disaster movie deep. However if you delight in thoughts of snowmen, gifts under a tree and elves working in a sweat shop somewhere then you may find this album charming. The songs have a sweetness to them, with a very talented multi-instrumentalist bringing lightness and life to some creative lyrics.
However it isn’t the Christmas theme that bugs me most about this album, it’s the attempt to make some serious music around that theme. Songs about devotion, loss and heartbreak which somehow also involve Christmas dinners. They attempt to emulate the likes of ‘Last Christmas’ by Wham, ‘Lonely This Christmas’ by Mud and ‘Fairytale of New York’ by The Pogues. Yet the songs lack the cheesy ballad quality, the timeless sing-a-long factor or the sheer fiery passion to which these were originally sang. The best out of the bunch on Christmas Special is ‘Christmas isn’t Christmas’, describing how the holiday won’t be the same because of a breakup. Nonetheless this is a rather simpering track with all the depression and fervour of a roast chestnut. These aren’t songs that will make good Christmas singles because, well they’re dull.
Still it’s nice to know that The Boy Least Likely To are making an effort, showing a genuine eagerness for Christmas wonderment. This is never more evident than with the track ‘George and Andrew’, a eccentric and eighties driven tribute to the Wham double act. The song details a reunion between Andrew Ridgeley and George Michael in a pub on Christmas Eve. The pleasant and quirky song redeems The Boy Least Likely To somewhat, especially with the comical and very British video (as in cheap and with hammy lookalike actors). The concept alone makes me think of Christmas, watching pre-millennium television, listening to repetitive music about drunks and drinking whilst hoping that I’ll be doing it all again next year. See, it even brings out the Christmas lover in me! In this respect The Boy Least Likely To’s album is a job well done. When it comes down to it though, the Christmas Special isn’t a keeper. In ten years time when I sit down on Christmas morning and turn on the television or the radio, I truly don’t believe that I will ever hear their seasonal songs whimpering back at me.