Robbie Williams is here to wish you a Merry Christmas. And it all feels a bit weird and desperate.
I’m going to level with you. Prior to reviewing this album I had ‘opinions’. The album title The Christmas Present. That artwork. The fact it is a double album of Christmas songs. I was concerned about what I was going to put myself through, without even hearing a note. But hey, it’s Robbie and his whole brand is this bullshit mix of bravado and schmaltz. Plus I remember the days of’ Rock DJ’ fondly. To be honest I’m surprised he hasn’t done a Christmas album before. He seems made for it.
And so it starts. The first half (which he has dubbed The Christmas Past) is a series of covers. You got ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’, ‘Let it Snow’ and ‘Santa Baby’. These versions fall for the typical problems of a lot of Christmas music. Williams spends most of the tracks aping classic artists. We know from his swing period 20 years ago, Robbie Williams wants to be Frank Sinatra but he doesn’t have the depth of voice to be in the rat pack. But he’s really trying.
So as he’s not making the definitive version of these songs, I reframed the question as to what this album achieves. Is Robbie Williams as good his contemporaries, such as the Michael Buble’s of this world? This is hard for me to judge as this is a musical genre I do not keep regular tabs on. That said, there is something about these songs that don’t sound as drab and clinical as other modern recreations of these classics. I felt my icy core melt. Just a tiny tiny bit. If nothing else Robbie is always going to bring some rustic charm.
Then comes the real surprise. ‘The Christmas Future’ second disc is full of original Christmas music. I can respect someone attempting to break free of the same 30 songs we listen to annually. It’s a big swing. But he mostly does not connect. It ends up being a very strange collection of music.
On this second disc, the tone and style vary wildly. The subjects are far from festive. We have ‘Idlewild’, a weird tale of a doomed relationship. Or, ‘Snowflakes’ which starts off as a clumsy metaphor for getting so drunk you pass out, and then transforms into a weird analysis of the divided political atmosphere. And guess what. The music is broadly not great. And then there is ‘Bad Sharon’. Why is Tyson fury singing a song? Unsurprisingly he can box a damn sight better than he can sing. Don’t let him know I said that!
The second disc has an awkward family feeling. A musical recital by some young relative, that everyone is forced to pay attention to. Just keep smiling encouragingly through it, while allowing your mind to go do anything else. Anything but actually listen. Maybe that is appropriate for a Christmas record, but to be honest I just don’t understand how anyone let him make this.
So after spending more time intentionally listening to Christmas music then I have ever before, this is how I felt: it’s not quite the death throes of an artist slipping into irrelevance that I thought it would be. But, If I am going to listen to these tunes that have been played to death to try and get my festive spirits going, just give me the originals. I want pure, uncut nostalgia, not some tame impression. Even if that means putting Slade on for the 9,999th time.
I doubt there’s many people beyond his die hard fans who will be excited to have this in their stocking. Personally, I would rather get a lump of coal.
Merry Christmas, you filthy animals!
Words by Matt Paul.