A geeky, gorgeous winter warmer
In 1853, Danish fairytale king Hans Christian Andersen wrote a short story called Alt Paa Sin Rette Plads. In it, our typically Andersen-ish pure-hearted goose girl heroine is tormented by a rakish aristocrat who cruelly flings her into the mud with the declaration that gives the story its title: “a place for everything, and everything in its place”. In the end, though, this heartless cad’s idea of a world placed and ordered according to wealth and nobility is subverted by (what else) a magic whistle, and the little goose girl ends up being the lady of the manor.
Unfortunately, in the real world, people who are pure of heart and good and kind and make their living herding poultry generally end being shat upon by life, and no karma-flute ever comes along to make everything right. But Andersen got one thing right; there’s a lot of validity in the idea that everyone eventually finds their own best context.
Take pop goose girl Emmy The Great, a doe-eyed creature so infuriatingly adorable that normally the sight or sound of her sends me into paroxysms of bitter rage and brings my cruellest instincts clawing to the fore. In a review of her debut album ‘First Love’, I seethed, “The warm blanket of Emmy’s twinkly confessional soon starts feeling a bit wet, and by the lacklustre strums of the title track you’re mentally slicing through her strings with your punk-rock garden shears.”
UNLESS! You put her in bobble hat and tinsel and fairy lights and team her up with her equally cartoonishly cute boyfriend, Ash’s Tim Wheeler, for a Christmas album. Put your secateurs away: once advent has begun, Emmy’s most annoying traits, via the magic of Christmas, become boons. Yuletide, after all, is all about sugar and sentimentality, and Tim’n’Emmy dive headfirst into sweet-overload with a bouncy, power-pop, sleigh bell-shimmying cover of seasonal standard ‘Marshmallow World’. If you’re gonna do it, do it right, as a wise man once said, and his influence is also there on ‘Snowflakes’, a big Wham!-style key-spangled ballad, whose shiveringly emotive harmonies on the chorus fill you full of icy thrill.
It should be unbearable, but instead it’s genuinely warming to hear something straight up fun and festive, revelling in sparkle and schmaltz without trying to shoehorn in some kind of ‘darkness’ in the belief that it makes them more artistically credible. There’s enough darkness in the world already this year, and while you’d expect the likes of ‘Christmas Day (I Wish I Was Surfing)’, ‘Jesus The Reindeer’ and (sigh) ‘Zombie Christmas’ to be terrible, they’re actually as nerdily, naffly lovable as watching repeats of Spaced in your pyjamas, Emmy’s usual acoustic emotionalism tempered by Wheeler’s shiny, bouncy riffage.
There are genuinely moving moments as well, where the couple’s chemistry is used to great effect. ‘Christmas Moon’, a countryish, Roy Orbison slow-mo weepie, is as frostily pretty as you like and even when Emmy bleats “he’s so meeeeean”, you will not feel the slightest compulsion to stab your speakers full of holes.
‘This Is Christmas’ is effectively hate-proof, loved-up, entertaining stuff that strikes just the right balance of humour and heart-tugging. ‘Don’t Call Me Mrs Christmas’ gives voice to Santa’s aggrieved and abandoned wife, left alone on Christmas Eve while her husband brings happiness to others, and is doughty and Dolly Parton-ish in its sassy self-righteousness. ‘Home For The Holidays’, with its drum-machine shuffle and crisp sleigh bells, conjures that anything-is-possible Christmas Eve feeling with its tale of teenage romance on the verge of being reignited (“I pass the corner and the cinema we used to go to… it feels like nothing’s changed”), while ‘Sleigh Me’ earns that pun with a hopelessly romantic chorus. We’ll worry about what to do with this pair for the other 11 months of the year later. For now, cynics, your goose is cooked.