Snow Globe

Albums such as Bad Religion’s new Christmas Songs may prove fleetingly fun(ny), but to ensure that your festive LP transcends its way from quirky novelty record to bona fide Christmas classic, it helps if you BELIEVE. Because if you really feel it, the listener may too.

James Brown, for example, architect of the masterpiece that is Funky Christmas, was a dedicated Christian, an ordained minister even, as revealed in John Landis’ cult documentary The Blues Brothers. Bob Dylan was once "born again” (we think, unless merely a tactic to further alienate and baffle) which surely helped to fuel the sheer gravel-gargling bark of sentiment that drives his version of ‘O’ Come All Ye Faithful’. I’ve visited grand cathedrals and humble chapels, sat patiently through the odd service, watched Songs Of Praise every now and again, read most of the New Testament, and searched for any tiny flicker of God’s presence in the beauty of the trees and the eyes of loved ones. No luck I’m afraid, but I genuinely do believe that the closest I’ve ever come to supreme soul-saving conversion was when driven to goosebumped near-rapture during a particularly intense encounter with Low’s ‘If You Were Born Today (Song For Little Baby Jesus)’. Like any good atheist I pulled myself back from the unsettling prospect of gibbering devotion by saying to myself, "That’s not the work of God, it’s the work of the Sparhawk-Parkers. The Almighty didn’t paint the Sistine’s ceiling, Michelangelo did.” However, I do think that the reason Low’s Christmas (mini)album is so dazzling is because they’re actually, you know, religious and stuff.

Now, Erasure don’t believe. They make this clear on Snow Globe‘s opening number. "I don’t believe in your religion / I only know what I can see” sings Andy Bell on this hopeful hymn to universal love. Its catchy heal-the-world secular preaching is reminiscent of that famous Band Aid song, only sung by one person instead of a jarring herd of mulleted yuppies and not yet intolerably over-familiar. Even though Erasure don’t believe, their Christmas album certainly means something. The album is dedicated to Paul Hickey, Bell’s partner of 25 years who died last year. Hickey had always wanted Erasure to make a Christmas album. He couldn’t have hoped for a greater tribute.

The yin to Depeche Mode’s gloom-wallowing yang, even when blighted by tragedy, flirting with despair, or singing in a dramatic baritone (see ‘Blood On The Snow’), Erasure cannot help but remain inspirationally, extraordinarily, enviably optimistic and ultimately uplifting. I seriously felt a far greater range and intensity of emotions listening to the 3:35 minutes of neo-synthpop anthem ‘Make It Wonderful’ than I did throughout in the entire hour and a half of that much-trumpeted 3D movie in which Sandra Bullock gets stranded on a bus on a boat in space for a bit. ‘Make It Wonderful’ and its poignant-yet-pumping sister track ‘Loving Man’ aren’t directly related to Christmas. They’re just a couple of stirring, tear-inducing, sadness-tinged, fucking irresistible love songs. In that respect, they’re thematically reminiscent of Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s heartstring-tugging Christmas ditty ‘The Power of Love’, which didn’t have much to do with that Jesus fella beyond its nativity-themed video. Oh, and they’re two of the best Erasure songs to date.

Joining Erasure’s original compositions are a cluster of classic Christmas cuts, transformed almost beyond recognition. With its chilly ambient plonks and twinkles, ‘Silent Night’ feels like a carol service in Brian Eno’s post-apocalyptic nuclear bunker. The "chestnuts roasting” and "Jack Frost nipping” of ‘The Christmas Song’ find themselves atypically surrounded by exotic arcade-game jitter-bleeps. The vocal track of ‘White Christmas’ has a nostalgic vinyl crackle but is accompanied by playful, primitive, lo-fi key prods. The craziest number (and lead single, nonetheless) ‘Gaudete’ is a giddy cover of the medieval Latin carol. It’s like attending an uninhibited Christmas party at the most fabulous monastery in the whole of Christendom. Vince Clarke says of this album that Bell is singing better than ever. He might be right, Bell’s range and lungpower are expanding with age, but perhaps Clarke is modestly distracting from his own synthesiser prowess which is on top form; adorning big, catchy pop structures with the vital, subtler electro flourishes that promise to keep things interesting.

With its wildly mutated cover versions and post-80s disco anthems, Snow Globe may face accusations of not being very "Christmassy”. That’s because it’s not a great record for cosying up in front of the fire with a pint of eggnog or raising an insincere glass to the poor and needy before devouring a turkey the size of Moby Dick.

Snow Globe is just a fantastic bloody record full stop.

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