Reluctantly Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree

Genie Harrison 29 December 2018
Image Credit: Creative Commons Zero

At the risk of sounding totally Grinch-y, I find myself somewhat relieved to come to the end of the Christmas period, because the end of Christmas means the end of Christmas music. Whilst I’ll go to more than a few carol services every December and will happily sing along to ‘War is Over’ and ‘Last Christmas’, I really struggle with Christmas albums. More often than not, Christmas albums feel lazy and tired to me; an attempt to churn out excess content during a hyper-commercialised time of year.

My distaste for Christmas albums was compounded this year by Eric Clapton’s release of ‘Happy Xmas’. My dad is probably one of Eric Clapton’s biggest fans. Despite this, when I told him about Clapton’s latest album release all he could bring himself to do was groan. Perhaps we are both cynical and in need of some festive enlivening, but this seems to me something of a career low-point for Clapton. The man was once placed 2nd on Rolling Stone’s list of the world’s all-time greatest guitarists, and he’s now singing Jingle Bells. He hasn’t even been bothered to write out the whole word ‘Christmas’ in the album’s title. I think I have such a problem with Christmas albums – particularly for well-known and successful artists – because so often they feel inadequate and sluggish. Naturally, I can see the appeal: the songs are written, the listeners are awaiting, but covering ‘White Christmas’ does not suddenly make you musically relevant. (Jessie J and Boyz II Men, I’m looking at you.)

That being said, I can come to appreciate the Christmas spirit of an artist like Michael Bublé, but it makes me wonder why I am so much more receptive to the likes of Bublé sound-tracking my December, as opposed to Eric Clapton, who I would ordinarily class as a far more accomplished and interesting musician. To begin with, I think the success of Bublé’s festive offerings is reliant on the type of artist that he is. The Bublé discography is jam-packed with jazz standards and traditional songs, (‘Fly Me to the Moon’, ‘My Funny Valentine’, etc.). Bublé is well-versed in the underratedly difficult art of approaching well-known songs and making them one’s own. He has effortlessly projected himself as the voice of Christmas for our generation.

However, perhaps this has come at a cost. Come December, (and perhaps even for other months of the year?) each of Bublé’s top tracks listed on Spotify are taken from his ‘Christmas’ album. Maybe Bublé’s Christmas success has been dependent on the fact that his musical ‘sound’ has become intrinsically festive; because so many of his hits are in fact covers, Bublé has negated the development of his own style and sound. If I want to listen to Eric Clapton, I will certainly not be turning to ‘Happy Xmas’ as a means to get my fix. However, I’m unlikely to listen to Michael Bublé at any time of the year other than December. As a result, my problem with Christmas music becomes two-fold; in order for it be successful, it relies on pigeon-holing. Whilst my attention to Bublé remains dormant for the remaining 11 months of the year, he is sure to be my first point of call come Advent. Contrastingly, I can’t bring myself to believe that Clapton has anywhere near the same connection with his rendition of ‘Jingle Bells’, as he does with ‘Tears in Heaven’, or ‘Wonderful Tonight’. Thus, I will be reserving my attention to Clapton for the music that I think is actually reflective of his endeavours as an artist.

Perhaps I am something of a Scrooge, but I struggle to see the point in artists spending their time re-hashing tired Christmas songs in the hope of reigniting flames of popularity – particularly when nothing of great significance is communicated through their performance of these songs. The production of Christmas albums relegates important and influential artists to background music that they simply don’t deserve to be, in a manner that I would go as far as saying degrades their best music to some extent. He might not be my all-time favourite, but once again I relied on Mr Bublé to sound-track Christmas – not even suggesting a listen to Clapton’s rendition of ‘Away In a Manger’ – because it is his voice that I believe to be truly assimilated with festivity, uncomplicated by the connotations of music made throughout the rest of the year.