When James Allan peered over his shades at the record company-bankrolled lunch and said yes, he would sign their contract, but he didn’t want a chauffeur, a monkey butler or a sponsorship deal with a leading sunglasses manufacturer brokered as part of the deal, the Columbia chiefs must have wondered what he did want. When he said he wanted to release a Christmas album months after Glasvegas’ debut flew off the shelves, and that it would be recorded in a church in Transylvania, someone probably choked on their asparagus. And then asked Allan if he was sure he didn’t fancy a monkey butler instead.
While James has told NME the label bods assumed he was joking, they must have known that a man of his locked-stare conviction was unlikely to let it lie. And so in September, after a few days of pre-production in New York with Rich Costey (who co-helmed their debut), Glasvegas flew to Transylvania.
Talked up by James as a full album, ‘A Snowflake Fell (And It Felt Like A Kiss)’ has instead had any excess Christmas fat jogged off and arrives as a six-song mini album (five newies and a version of ‘Silent Night’), available to download and tacked on to a reissue of September’s self-titled debut. It blasts any suggestion that Glasvegas might not sustain their pedigree beyond one album straight out of the chimney. In the short time since ‘Daddy’s Gone’ and ‘Geraldine’ captured our hearts and painted them glossy black, James has mastered bittersweet songwriting.
‘Glasvegas’ nailed the essence of swigging Buckfast while bruised in the gutter but still dreamily gazing at the stars. Similarly ‘A Snowflake…’ harnesses both the snow-bitten harshness of a snot-freezing Glasgow winter and the present-ripping warmth of the festive season, striking a perfect sweet’n’sour balance between the two. It’s not to be filed next to Wizzard.
The best example is the lullaby-like ‘Cruel Moon’ which, shorn of any over-use of axeman Rab Allan’s My Bloody Valentine-style guitar hurricane, shows that Glasvegas’ songs still stand firm without a wall of guitar blast to hide behind. James sings a homeless man’s hopeless tale over softly-pressed piano. When he sings “I had the same dreams as you… yesterday” the sleigh bells that tinkle in could just as easily signal the cascading of snow from the sky or tears from an eye. The best song, however, is the boisterous (if rather un-Christian) ‘Fuck You, It’s Over’ – a cousin of first album track ‘Lonesome Swan’ with diving U2-sired guitar hurdles and poisonous spits about a relationship harshly aborted at Christmas time. More upbeat (well, for a band whose first album featured a song named ‘Stabbed’) is the title track, with its ice-cream van melody and Lennon-y piano every bit as beautiful as the simile in its title. Warmer still are the bell chimes of ‘Careful What You Wish For’, deftly cut with vampiric organ to stirring effect.
The song’s quality – along with that of everything else here, not least the closing ‘Silent Night’, featuring a full church choir epically utilised to yank up every hair on the back of the listener’s neck – re-confirms Glasvegas’ position as the most exciting British band right now.
So despite the risk they took by recording the album in a ‘Chinese Democracy’-mocking 12 days, the only turkey they’ll be offering up this Christmas will be the kind you serve with sprouts.