The Los Angeles punks add some three-chord riffage to a bunch of festive classics
Punks bloody love Christmas. Maybe it’s because of the festive colours – those potent reds, greens and golds reminiscent of the tartan bondage trousers on sale in Vivienne Westwood’s King’s Road shop in the late 1970s. Or perhaps it’s down to the easy access to mulled wine – the perfect accompaniment to an evening’s pogoing to Clash B-sides after you’ve taken your mutt-on-a-string for a stroll down Camden Lock. Whatever the reason, the links between the safety-pinned subculture and the ho-ho-ho-ing of Santa Claus are strong.
Since Shane MacGowan and his scuzzy street folkers in The Pogues joined forces with Kirsty MacColl in 1987 for the finest Christmas song ever laid to tape – no arguments against ‘Fairytale Of New York’ here, please – there have been enough punk-rock tributes to Christmas to hide behind every door of the advent calendars belonging to each of the 12 lords a-leaping. From the Ramones’ ‘Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight)’ to The Vandals and their ‘Oi To The World’ album – the title track of which was covered by No Doubt – via Rancid, Blink-182 and even Weezer, most second- and third-wave punk bands have done their bit to boost Father Christmas’ ego. The only bands missing are the bastions of punk, like the Sex Pistols and Buzzcocks, who didn’t find it necessary to muddy their reputations with novelty hits about getting dumped on Christmas Eve.
Bad Religion are no strangers to the Christmas song. But instead of penning their own odes to the season, these middle-aged Los Angelinos have taken another route popular with punks – that of the comedy cover, an art finessed by Fat Wreck Chords supergroup Me First And The Gimme Gimmes. Bad Religion have previously thrashed their way through ‘The First Noel’, ‘Silent Night’ and a little something they called ‘God Rest Ye Jerry Mentlemen’, but ‘Christmas Songs’ is the first time they’ve pulled together an entire album of festive tunes. In the spirit of goodwill to all men, it’s for charity too, with 20 per cent of the profits going to SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
The nine tracks here turn to the old-school and the classic, making the carols you sung at school into something better suited to a night doing shots of eggnog in Fat Mike’s shed. It kicks off with ‘Hark! The Herald Angels Sing’, and the first 30 seconds trick you into thinking you might be listening to a gruff but enthusiastic local male voice choir whose collective balls dropped many moons ago. The a cappella hollering is brought to a swift finish with the squeal of a guitar and a skanking drumbeat. The tracks that follow – ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’, ‘Angels We Have Heard On High’, the ‘Greensleeves’ riffing of ‘What Child Is This?’, ‘O Come, O Come, Emmanuel’, ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ – follow much the same pattern. They speed the fucker up and whack some three-chord riffage on top. It’s all a bit shit. More interesting is ‘White Christmas’, which nabs its opening from ‘I Wanna Be Sedated’. The best is saved for last, though, in the form of an alternative mix of ‘American Jesus’ from Bad Religion’s 1993 album ‘Recipe For Hate’. With its lyrics about religious authoritarianism, proceedings take a suddenly bleak twist. Something for all the Scrooges out there it may be, but it’s also the least cringeworthy moment on the whole record.