I’d rather be force-fed my father’s trifle – his sole contribution to the festive meal and indeed any meal, when he’d douse the sponge fingers with sherry, like they were my toy soldiers bound up in sacks for some casual waterboarding.
I’d rather be left outside in the snow wearing only socks given me by my Auntie Nan, the time-honoured, never-deviating gift for which it was customary to thank with a kiss, hopefully avoiding the hairy mole on the upper lip.
I’d rather be visited by the inanely grinning Noel Edmonds, even if he’d crashed his helicopter into the side of our house, even if he was sporting a hideous jumper before these started to be worn ironically.
Blowing Covid a raspberry
Yes, Robbie Williams new single is that bad – truly the worst Christmas record of all time.
“Oh what a miserable year,” he sings, and I’m sure everyone would agree about that. The next line, though, is: “But what a time to be alive” (Hang on, 55,000 in Britain aren’t!) “Sadly some friends disappeared.” (Exactly).
Despite the erratic nature of the opening verse – very Robbie, of course, for when he pops up on live telly you don’t know whether he’s going to light his farts or do something silly – the song Can’t Stop Christmas is very much him blowing Covid a big, defiant raspberry with a tooter from his cracker.
That’s a fine and noble gesture. We need our artists to be brave. To demonstrate that despite their audiences being obliterated they’re refusing to give up. To respond to shuttered galleries and darkened theatres and cancelled tours with work that is courageous, uplifting and optimistic.
Unfortunately “You can’t take away our season like you can take away the wine” doesn’t quite do this as far as I’m concerned.
Now you may think that at the very least Robbie deserves credit for a well-intentioned tune which tries to spread some festive cheer. And you may be among those pushing the established Christmas canon back into the charts. Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas Is You is currently No 31 and rising. Wham’s Last Christmas is at 44 with Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas and Shakin’ Stevens Merry Christmas Everyone not far behind.
Hoary, holly-decked standards always re-enter the Top 50 in the festive season but never so many of them and never so early. We’re desperate for this Christmas to happen, Brussels sprouts and all. If, by the time the tin of Quality Street reached us, there was only a hard toffee remaining and this dislodged a couple of teeth in the full knowledge that our dentist had just had his practice claimed by Covid, we would not care. We were having Christmas and that was all that mattered.
So why shouldn’t Robbie be commended for having the balls, or the baubles, to take on the big theme, the biggest there has been since the world wars? I’ll tell you why: for couplets like “Santa’s on his sleigh, but now he’s two metres away.”
I wasn’t expecting a Dylanesque response to lockdown from him but had maybe hoped for something slightly more profound than “We’re going out of our minds.” I’m not the only one. “An imploded festival toilet in hell,” is a typical Twittersphere verdict on the song. There is speculation that Robbie must have lifted the lyrics straight from Facebook or that a classroom of primary kids came up with a line each. “The song 2020 deserves,” is one of the kinder reactions. Cruellest is “You can’t vaccinate for stupid.”
Oh dear. Poor Robbie. He must be desperate for another big, swaying, singalong hit like Angels but I’m going to suggest this won’t be it. If only he’d taken more care with the words.
From Shane McGowan’s general demeanour and specifically the state of his gnashers, you might have thought Fairytale of New York was dashed off between hangovers. Yet the Pogues’ anthem, despite its shambling narrative of a squabbling couple down on their luck, took him more than two years to complete.
“Every night I used to have another bash at nailing the lyrics but I knew they weren’t right,” McGowan has admitted. “It is by far the most complicated song that I have ever been involved with writing and performing. The beauty of it is that it sounds really simple.”
In need of censorship
Fairytale regularly tops the tree of favourite Christmas songs. Personally I’d put it behind Wizzard’s I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday (for Roy Wood in the video as the saddest Santa there ever was, trying to hold back snowy, glittery tears), David Bowie and Bing Crosby’s medley of The Little Drummer Boy and Peace on Earth (just surreal, with Dave mistaking Bing for a butler) and of course Slade’s Merry Xmas Everybody (though I’ve never worked in Boots so haven’t been subjected to that one 172 times every December).
But the duet between McGowan and Kirsty MacColl has become notorious with the abrasive tale often jarring with modern sensibilities and this year the BBC have edited out the words “faggot” and “slut” for plays on Radio 1. This is hardly surprising but who’s going to censor Robbie?
When he warbles “I guess you do your shopping online” and then suggests “If you’re wondering what to get me, socks and sanitizer will do fine”, it hardly fills me with enthusiasm for the first Covid novel, the first Covid play and the first Covid movie, all of which must surely be coming in 2021.
Can’t Stop Christmas? This dreadful ditty is a good advert for lockdown.