A WIZZARD IDEA, TOM
A Christmas album? That’s...
When it comes to music, we’re all haunted by the ghost of Christmas past. At carol services we expect the old chestnuts. On the day, Top Of The Pops returns to show Sounds Like Friday Night how it’s done. In the charts, the sounds of the Seventies ring out yet again. All together now: I wish it could be Wizzard every year.
This time, there are some new Christmas songs, thanks to an unlikely saviour. Tom Chaplin, of Keane, hails from the land of indie, which usually leaves Christmas to the pop stars. And where he once resembled a rosy-cheeked cherub, he now bears the scars of some battles with drugs.
Still, he has two vital qualifications for the job: the voice of an angel, and an eye for life as it really is. In his Twelve Tales, Chaplin is neither dreaming of a white Christmas, nor simply having a wonderful Christmas time.
As the dad of a small daughter, he’s not immune to the charms of the season. Sonically, this album is descended from Greg Lake’s I Believe In Father Christmas, with its subtle shimmer. But lyrically, it leans towards Wham!’s Last Christmas, with a sense of the darkness that lurks behind the tinsel.
‘There’s a bittersweet quality to this time of year,’ Chaplin says, ‘that made me want to explore the themes of love, lost love and remembering those we have lost.’ That’s a lot of loss, and it brings depth to the eight new songs here.
There’s also a dash of the earthy realism that has made the Pogues’ Fairytale Of New York so indispensable. The first single, Under A Million Lights, is beguiling but blunt: ‘It’s easy to think we’re screwed/Reading the front-page news.’
The four covers are thoughtful choices, ranging from Joni Mitchell (River) to East 17 (Stay Another Day). The Pretenders’ 2000 Miles is there too, but best of all is a sugar-free version of Howard Blake’s Walking In The Air. It deserves to vie with Wham! for Christmas No 1.
TIM DE LISLE