Rage against the X Fac­tor ma­chine pays off for lovers of Christ­mas hits.

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Front Page -

FOR THE past decade or so the Christ­mas No 1 sin­gle has ei­ther been in the clutches of the go­daw­ful “nov­elty” record or what­ever comes off the X Fac­tor con­veyor belt. Since Rage Against the Ma­chine blood­ied Mr Cowell’s nose with last year’s “peo­ple’s revo­lu­tion” there’s now a bit more in­ter­est in the ul­ti­mately mean­ing­less but much talked about fes­tive No 1.

Be­cause this year’s field has opened up a bit, there’s isn’t as much in­ter­est as an­tic­i­pated in the anti-X Fac­tor song, Cage Against the Ma­chine (John Cage’s four min­utes and 33 sec­onds of si­lence). The song was “recorded” last week in London; acts such as Suggs, The Kooks and Or­bital turned up for the video shoot and stood around in si­lence for the re­quired time. (Pete Doherty was a no-show but Billy Bragg ap­peared via Black­berry.)

4,33 is an in­spired choice, and it prompted a fu­ri­ous Simon Cowell (who ac­tu­ally owns Christ­mas) to “reimag­ine” this year’s X Fac­tor win­ner’s sin­gle. In the past he’s usu­ally gone for some­thing safely mid-tempo and drowned in strings, but ap­par­ently this year it’s go­ing to be a big, dance- floor-friendly cover of Brit­ney Spears’s Stronger. Cowell has re­port­edly thrown a mil­lion quid at the video, chore­og­ra­phy and mar­ket­ing cam­paign – an­other good rea­son for him and his fast-food McMu­sic to take a hit.

If the pro-and anti-X Fac­tor fac­tions only suc­ceed in can­celling each other out, stand­ing in the wings are two un­likely bands ready to cap­i­talise. Both The Killers and Cold­play have their eye on the prize with es­pe­cially com­posed sea­sonal sin­gles.

Cold­play’s Christ­mas Lights (see re­view, page 15) will have the in­die kidz chok­ing on their soy lat­tes, but it’s a def­i­nite No 1 con­tender. The video, in­ci­den­tally, has them per­form­ing in a small the­atre that car­ries the in­scrip­tion Credo Elvem Etiam Vi­vere (I Be­lieve Elvis Lives).

The Killers have recorded the oddly named Boots as their now an­nual fes­tive of­fer­ing. It’s an evoca­tive, child­hood me­mory af­fair that goes easy on the usual sleigh­bell clichés and, like the Cold­play song, is de­signed to ap­peal be­yond their usual fan­base. What’s odd about these songs is how sin­cere they are. They’re the sort that bands used to record in the 1960s, be­fore irony and nov­elty near stran­gled the life out of the Christ­mas sin­gle. It’s per­haps no co­in­ci­dence that both bands have tra­di­tional re­li­gious lean­ings.

How­ever, a big threat to them both, ac­cord­ing to the book­ies, is Slip­knot’s Corey Tay­lor, whose X-M@S sin­gle, a tra­di­tional-sound­ing song (if you’re with Slip­knot, that is), is pick­ing up a lot of “bah, hum­bug” at­ten­tion.

The spend on Christ­mas sin­gles this year will break all records, thanks to the amount, va­ri­ety and gen­er­ally high qual­ity of the tracks. Whether it’s El­lie Gould­ing’s bril­liant cover of El­ton John’s Your Song (which qual­i­fies as it’s be­ing used in a Christ­mas ad cam­paign for some big depart­ment store) or The Priests and Shane MacGowan with Lit­tle Drum­mer Boy, this is an un­prece­dented as­sault on the Christ­mas sin­gle spend mar­ket. It’s thought to be in­flu­enced by the amount of high-pro­file me­dia at­ten­tion show­ered on the X Fac­tor/ Rage Against the Ma­chine slap­down last year.

Skip­ping quickly over the Christ­mas sin­gle about Nick Clegg with the very naughty ti­tle, the most in­ter­est­ing mu­si­cal of­fer­ing this year comes from, of all, peo­ple, Paul Simon. Set over a Grace­landera rhythm and fea­tur­ing a sam­ple of gospel artist Reverend JM Gates, the lyrics steer well clear of the usual con­cerns.

“From early in Novem­ber to the last week in De­cem­ber, I got money mat­ters weigh­ing me down. Well the mu­sic may be merry, but it’s only tem­po­rary, I know Santa Claus is comin’ to town. In the days I work my day job, in the nights I work my night, but it all comes down to work­ing man’s pay. I’m get­ting ready, get­ting ready for Christ­mas day.” That’s the first verse; the sec­ond moves on to men­tions of Pak­istan and Iraq.

Mu­si­cally ec­cen­tric and very zeit­geist-em­brac­ing, I’m Get­ting Ready for Christ­mas Day is the best thing Simon’s done in years and the pick of this year’s Christ­mas pops.

Peter Doherty: no time for the sound of si­lence

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