Thursday, 9 December 2010

ALEX: "But is it Christmas?"

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And Christmas is complete.

Los Campesinos! release, alongside the eventual announcement of Big Secret Project 'Heat Rash' (more on this elsewhere, I'm sure), a Christmas song. It's called Kindle A Flame In Her Heart and it is a Los Campesinos! song, and therefore good.

(In my opinion. It has been called to my attention that, upsettingly, not everyone shares my views.)

It namechecks almost every single piece of stock Christmas imagery: from Robin Redbreast to mistletoe, via lumps of coal and herald angels. It features the words "Merry Christmas". It is, undeniably, a song about Christmas.
Potentially a very subtle Christmas List hint...
However: it sounds like a song by Los Campesinos!. This is key, definitely. I've been doing my yearly playlist-making recently, gathering together all the Christmas songs I like. For the first time, I've been using Spotify. Which has led, inevitably and dangerously, to playing it around other people. Namely the lovely girlfriend. Quoth:
"But it's not very ... Christmassy, though, is it?"
Which is kind of true. Almost no other human being on the planet would associate any of this alternative Christmas sountrack with the festive season, and fair enough. That's kind of the point of being alternative, I guess. But the truth is: the majority of these songs don't instill any sense of Christmasness, even in me.

Every other emotion exists across the spectrum of music. My years-long quest for a different kind of Christmas song can't be unique. Does it come down to that age-old chestnut? They don't make proper Christmas songs anymore? It's not as if people aren't trying. Kindle A Flame... is a particularly strong offender in the not-very-Christmassy stakes. By my calculations, you need exactly one thing to make a song sound like Christmas: bells. These are in abundant supply on the playlist.
Thanks, Sufjan!
But take one of the Sufjan Stevens tracks, off his five-disc epic Songs for Christmas. In theory, that ticks all the traditional boxes, much more than, say, Wham!'s Last Christmas. But at the end of the day, which one feels more like Christmas?

Maybe it's a matter of tradition, and these songs need more time to settle. Low's Just Like Christmas does help me feel like it's Christmas - and the question of trying to make yourself feel like it's Christmas is one of the great mysteries of our age, stretching far beyond the humble Christmas song - which is probably a result of it having been in my festive life for half a decade now.

But this yearly tradition, and a least a few of its fellow songs, stretches back at least one Christmas further than that. It's a tightrope. You need to have heard songs enough for them to embed into your Christmas memories. On the other hand... Well, let's take the cautionary tale of the biggest Alternative Christmas song of all time. Once upon a time the Pogues had a well-earned place in that playlist. Fairytale of New York is a fine song, sufficiently Christmassy without sacrificing being, y'know, good. It's the kind of thing that gets played in the family car and in my bedroom.

Then, three Christmasses ago: the whole radio-censoring thing blew up, and it got, somewhat counter-intuitively, played even more than usual. It became The Christmas Song, it was everywhere, and I got sick of hearing it.
Just Like Christmas
Maybe the problem with Christmas songs isn't their individual quality. By their very nature, Christmas songs have to be repeated over and over and over and over and over in a very short space of time, in order to become Christmas songs. Very few songs can stand up to that level of repetition.

The underlying point here is that I can't imagine a new song entering the Christmas canon. This isn't an alternative vs. mainsteam problem, as such. Lady Gaga's just released a Christmas song. The biggest pop star on the planet right now. Will it make a dent on the Christmas compilations, the Christmas adverts, the mass consensus of Christmas songs? It just feels impossible. Which leaves us with the same set of faintly naff Christmas songs, passed down from generation to generation.

On one hand, that's quite a sweet image. On the other ... well, you want a picture of Christmas Yet To Come? Imagine Slade's Merry Xmas Everybody stamping on a human ear - forever.


About The Author: Alex
About the author:
Alex Spencer is the slightly deranged genius who
thought this blog might be a good idea. Of course,
it might not really be Alex after all. After that one
dark night a few years ago, it's been suggested
he split into three parts, all of them pure evil...

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Videogames, film, music, comics: feed them into the Alex-Spencer machine and out come neat little articles. Like the ones you're looking at here.