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