Nick Lowe says when he was asked to do a Christmas album by his label his first thought was ‘Do they really think I would wish to sully my good name on this tawdry and vulgar commercialism?” However perhaps he remembered the tawdry and vulgar commercialism he aspired to back in his Stiff days ( his response to David Bowie calling his album Low was to release an EP called Bowi) and having mellowed in these grey haired days he decided to go for it. The result is a departure from his current status as a grand old man of song writing and somewhat of a return to his cheeky chappie persona he employed back in the seventies. There’s a definite tongue in cheek feel to much of the album from the cheesy artwork to the title’s homage to the ubiquitous tin of confectionary passed around on Christmas day and which can be found piled in the nation’s supermarket aisles as they rush to herd us towards the season of good will and debt.
Lowe offers some traditional fare with Roger Miller’s Old Toy Trains and Boudleaux Bryant’s Christmas Can’t Be Far Away which sound just like you’d imagine them to be and if he’d maintained this approach then Quality Street would just be another Xmas cash in. Other standards are tweaked with Silent Night given a farfisa fuelled southern feel and Wizzard’s I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day gets a ska makeover. Still nothing to get too excited about. However he delivers a fine Lonnie Donegan inspired skiffle on Children Go Where I Send Thee while The North Pole Express steams in fuelled by good old fashioned fatback guitar rock’n’roll adding some muscle to the album.
Lowe claims that he wanted to have a “sleigh-bell free zone” and one has to commend him for that but there’s no denying that those sleigh bells are the most evocative element of a successful Christmas song, cheesy or good. As a result it’s hard to get a feel for Christmas when listening to the album (never mind that it’s just October) but just when you reckon it’s just another seasonal cracker that failed to bang Lowe throws in some unexpected gifts that bring a smile to the face. Hooves on The Roof (written by Ron Sexsmith) is a finger poppin’ hipster groove that just about captures the sense of disbelief required regarding the fat man in the chimney. Christmas At The Airport is a jolly romp with Ray Conniff type backing vocals as Nick falls asleep in a snowed in terminal and wakes to find it closed so enjoys his holiday there playing on the luggage carousel with Christmas dinner a burger he found in a bin. A novelty hit perhaps? Finally there’s A Dollar Short of Happy, co written with Ry Cooder, which turns the syrupy Nat King Cole song into a street beggar’s plea as he observes city slickers suffering from the economic downturn. If there’s any justice Nick and Ry’s cynical lament should be the Christmas Number One.
As for tawdry and vulgar commercialism if you pre-order the CD/LP now at the Yep Roc store you get some exclusive goodies including a holiday greeting card set, a Nick Lowe Snow Globe and Nick Lowe wrapping paper!