EP Review: Slow Club – Christmas, Thanks For Nothing
(Posted at TLOBF.com)
Christmas – a time of love, forgiveness, and the consumption of copious amounts of delicious food – or is it? Judging by the extreme brand of misery peddled on Sheffield duo Slow Club’s Christmas EP, you’d be far more likely to find half-empty tubs of valium and crushed Kleenex strewn under SC’s Christmas tree, rather than gaudily-wrapped presents.
The album kicks off with the Christmas-with-a-twist-of-depression classic ‘All Alone at Christmas’ – however, there’s no sweet, pre-mugshot Macaulay Culkin skulking about in Charles’s version – the brash horns and blustering 80’s jangle of the original are replaced by a gently-rolling piano line, and Charles’s wounded whine more than faintly recalls Conor Oberst at his most shaky. If this track could be described in terms of an office Christmas party, this’d be the hazy twilight zone between three and four am, where the beginnings of a hangover erode the merrymaker’s good will and they stagger home, clutching their temples, regret already beginning to seep in at the night’s antics.
But before the atmosphere gets doom-laden beyond irony, Rebecca swoops in and saves the day with a rollicking version of Phil Spector’s yuletide standard ‘Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)’ – and it seems that the festive spirit has done wonders for Rebecca’s voice. Gone is the meek chirrup that meshed itself with Charles’s voice so fluidly in their debut, and in its place is a full-throated wail that’d shame any soul diva.
However, just when the gimmick of a folk-duo crooning their way through ubiquitous Christmas hits is beginning to wear a little thin, Slow Club enter more familiar territory with ‘It’s Christmas And You’re Boring Me’, which combines the Slow Club touchstone of lilting folk melody and gently caustic lyrics, with Rebecca (back to her girlish croon) sneeringly giving a dreary lover the sharp edge of her tongue – ‘You don’t excite me/ I’ll wait ‘til next year to tell you that we’re through’.
Next up is Charles’s big moment to shine – on the title track, the duo’s canny juxtaposition between the festivities of Christmas and the deep-seated depression of their songs finally hits home, with Charles’s wailing ‘Christmas, thanks for nothing – you made a doubter outta me!’ against the jovial backdrop of bouncy piano and cheery oohs. It’s the aural equivalent of the kid who always cries in the middle of the Christmas play, and it’s so steeped in irony it almost hurts.
However, the goodwill is marred slightly by a (to put it bluntly) pretty useless fuzzy organ instrumental of ‘Silent Night’ – which, as well as being not a particularly easy listen, completely outstays it’s welcome at 1 minute and 40 seconds – 1 minute and 40 seconds you could have spent listening to the far more pleasant ‘Christmas TV’ – already a standard in Slow Club’s live act, it displays Slow Club at their most sincere, with Rebecca crooning ‘I like the way that our arguments stop when we fall asleep/ and the way that your body feels when it’s wrapped around me’. As a standalone track, ‘Christmas TV’ may prove itself a little saccharine for some, but pared with the gutsy gloom of the rest of the EP, it comes as a blessed relief.
So, all in all, a brave attempt at bucking the Christmas-crap trend on Slow Club’s behalf, but there’s something oddly incohesive about ‘Christmas, Thanks For Nothing’ – for a thematic EP it lacks conviction to it’s own central theme, swinging between honesty and irony, traditional and unconvential, sweetness and bitterness- it’s far too wide a range of emotions to cover in a single EP, and I can’t help thinking that if maybe they’d stuck to one of those premises – perhaps released a whole EP consisting of ‘Happy Christmas your arse’ style moans, or a whole EP of wounded, festive heartbreak, or even a more traditional Christmas affair á la Sufjan Stevens, ‘Christmas, Thanks For Nothing’ may have turned out a whole lot more consistent. So, from me – bah humbug!