PLAYING Christmas songs and albums have become synonymous with the season – as much as Christmas dinner, partying, putting up trees and decorations and giving out presents.
With so many much-loved tunes already out there it is a brave step to record a new one, let alone a 24-track album where there 17 are newly written works.
I myself have a 275-song MP3 player packed full of Christmas classics, hymns and instrumentals (there’s at least four different versions of Sleigh Ride, Silver Bells and a host of other covers).
Robbie Williams’ The Christmas Presents does provide a nice mix of songs, as you would expect, some better than others – the majority are ‘swing’ renditions.
A few years ago Michael Buble’s album became an instant hit and the dust is blown from it every Christmas.
The question is, will this have the same impact?
There are many highlights on this offering – it starts with the familiar – four well-known classics.
The swing version of Winter Wonderland sets the tone for the album and is quickly followed by a jazz version of Merry Xmas Everybody with the genre’s legend Jamie Cullum. To cover this Slade smash is probably the bravest thing to do but the Williams/Cullum version does offer something different and is a fantastic version.
Next up, Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow, is upbeat – how it should be – a song about staying warm and cosy inside while outside is white, cold and picturesque.
The cover of The Christmas Song is also a welcome alternative to the Nat King Cole version we all put on come December. It is brighter and has more of the tone you would expect for the lyrics.
It is the next section of the album which I feel will divide opinion – when the new songs are introduced.
Whatever your thoughts, these are clever compositions and provide variety – Coco’s Christmas Lullaby, incorporating a children’s choir, captures the Yule magic felt by us all earlier in our lives.
Rudolph is fun – sampling Carol of the Bells which brings more magic and familiarity whilst depicting the journey of the man in the big red suit on Christmas Eve.
Yeah It’s Christmas and It’s a Wonderful Life nostalgically reminisce about the ‘every year events’ such as neighbours you only see once a year coming round to ‘eat your food and drink your beer’, Bing Crosby songs and watching Morecamb and Wise.
Let’s Not Go Shopping conveys a message many men (and probably a few women) want to convey to their partners.
But my pick of the newly-written songs was Best Christmas Ever. I love a catchy chorus which gets stuck in your head almost as soon as you hear it and this does that.
Bringing the curtain down on the first half is the upbeat One Last Christmas and a reprise of Coco’s Christmas Lullaby.
There is also an interesting version of Santa Baby – not often done as a duet – with Helen Fischer.
My only criticism of the first half of the album is maybe it could have been more upbeat but this is addressed on disc two – the more ‘poppier’ half of the set.
The picks of the second half include the light-hearted Bad Sharon with boxer-turned singer Tyson Fury, Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) with Bryan Adams – I don’t think I have heard a bad version of this song and this is up there with the best of them and Fairytales – another nice collaboration with Rod Stewart.
I was not sure about ‘Happy Birthday Jesus Christ’ which sounds like an 1980s song – it would not have been out of place in the film Music and Lyrics, starring Hugh Grant.
But the final song Snowflakes features some great comic lines and ends the album on a high.
Deliberately ironic in its quest to be non-politically correct, it contains the lyrics:
“My dad’s new girlfriend from Taiwan
“Brand new to the country and she’s 21
“They met online and now she’s my mum
“She’s never seen a snowflake
“Cause they don’t get no snowflakes.”
Overall, if you are a Robbie Williams fan or a swing/big band music fan you will love this and if you love this time of year like I do, this album is worth adding to your ‘Christmas jukebox’.
Some of the songs on here I will definitely be listening to again but there are a couple I will probably be skipping past in favour of classics from Slade, The Pogues and Kirsty McColl and Jona Lewie.
I would like to have seen more of a 50/50 mix between covers and new material and some of the instruments could be toned down in places as they have a tendency to drown out the lyrics.
The well-written and clever words of this album I would say are where RW’s genius comes through so it’s a shame not to hear every one.
If you want an album to party to, this is probably not the best one, but if you want to pour yourself a glass of something special and sit by the fireside or have it on when you’re decorating the tree, wrapping presents or preparing your veg for the most wonderful roast of the year – it’s fantastic for that.
Visit robbiewilliams.com for more information on Robbie, his music and The Christmas Present album.