I’ve always been a little conflicted about Christmas. Every benefit has its payback: gluttony, but also intestinal trauma; James Bond, but also Robbie Williams; the Christmas special of Ghosts, but also John Lewis songs that make you want to gouge out your eardrums with a cracker keyring.
So, like the festival season and life-threatening amounts of wine, I’m kind of looking forward to not really having a Christmas in 2020, just to see what it’s like. I’ve already gifted myself my big present anyway, when I was one of approximately three non-scalpers in the UK who beat hundreds of thousands of refresh-hammering finger ninjas to a PS5 on launch day. Frankly, all these Grand Theft Auto V pussies never stood a chance against the iron fingers of the Daley Thompson’s Decathlon generation.
With a few days of lockdown-free family time set to be paid for with a further month of Zoom quiz, the world at large seems to share my vaguely disconsolate (but secretly relieved) approach to Christmas 2020. It’s not as though there’s much to celebrate about the year, unless you’re a big fan of terrifying graphs and Would I Lie To You? repeats.
While we all sat around waiting to find out if democracy still existed – or, if Trump would fuck off – the annual Christmas advert song debate came and went with all the ardour and passion of a sprout fart. Meanwhile, the only Christmas releases of note on the schedules so far are Amanda Holden’s show tune shitshow ‘Songs From My Heart’ (easier, perhaps, than expressing emotion facially) and Snoop Dogg’s festive version of the jingle from the Just Eat adverts. “Most wonderful time of the year / It’s a ‘Just Eat anything’ vibe over here,” he drawls, sell-outishly. It’s as horrific as watching Bruce Springsteen check the Asda price on a bootlace tie.
Thank Santa, then, for The Killers. They’ve chosen this bleakest of midwinters to release their 2016 Christmas album ‘Don’t Waste Your Wishes’ onto streaming services, bringing a glimmer of cheer to a season otherwise as festive as a Brexit negotiation. Dotted with cartoonish seasonal tales (‘Joel The Lump Of Coal’, ‘The Cowboys’ Christmas Ball’), moving interludes (‘Christmas In L.A.’, ‘Boots’) and guest appearances from the likes of Neil Tennant, Jimmy Kimmel, Elton John and actor Richard Dreyfuss, it has all the trappings of a bauble-blasted televised celebrity special but none of the corny fake festivity.
That’s because the album is compiled from annual charity Christmas singles released over the course of a decade – The Killers know that Christmas music should be a gamely gesture rather than a Scrooge-like grasp. Recording a festive song is a sign of getting into the spirit; making a Christmas album, on the other hand, is all about milking it. There’s a calculating, commercialist cynicism to Alfie Boe and Michael Ball whacking on tuxedos in July and knocking out yet another ‘Mistletoe And Wine’. No-one’s ever that Christmas.
The Killers are making a more subtle statement, far more in keeping with the tone of the times. In a year when any fresh attempt at festive musical jollity can only possibly come across as crass and disingenuous – I mean, come on, Boe: read the deserted grotto – they’re gifting their 10-track winter wonderland to the streaming masses as a gentle reminder that Christmas 2020 doesn’t have to be an entire wash-out.
This is a year when Christmas music needs to be as supportive and sensitive to the struggling as it is uplifting and be-tinselled and, in that very spirit, ‘Don’t Waste Your Wishes’ arrives like a cheeky Prosecco lowered from an upstairs balcony.
‘¡Happy Birthday Guadalupe!’ is a seasonal love letter to America’s demonised southern neighbours. ‘Christmas In L.A.’ captures the anguish of yuletide isolation. ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas’ – written from the perspective of a World War II soldier and sung alongside the teacher who inspired Brandon Flowers to get into music – is a tribute to the season as a light in a crisis, and sounds more timely than ever: “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams”.
In a year when xmas will be as reflective as it is celebratory, when we’re glimpsing the light at the end of the tunnel while mindful of the hardships we’ve endured, The Killers might have just struck the perfect note.