Whether you’re out shopping, watching the telly, listening to the radio or browsing Spotify, the omnipresent spectre of the Christmas song is never too far away at this time of year.
And while the inevitability of being aurally battered by Noddy Holder yelling “IT’S CHRIIIIISTMAS!” is something you we all have to accept from about October onwards, there are a number of artists battling against the old guard of Mariah and Co, releasing new festive tracks in an attempt to wiggle their way into the yuletide oeuvre.
And 2021 is no different. Here, we’ve listened through the most notable contenders, and decided whether each of the new batch is a bonafide Christmas cracker, or ends up sounding like a bit of a turkey. Mince pies and playlists at the ready — let the sleigh bells ring.
Ed Sheeran & Elton John - Merry Christmas
Ed Sheeran and Elton John recording a Christmas song together has been the worst kept secret of 2021 — the former accidentally let the news slip on Dutch radio back in October, with the latter jokingly chastising his duet partner as “big mouth f***ing Sheeran”. It’s unapologetically clichéd — anyone with “tree”, “December”, “snow”, “kiss” and “mistletoe” on their bingo cards will have a full house within the first few lines — but it’s as catchy as you’d expect from two men who gobble up number one hits like they’re tasty little stollens. If it doesn’t top the charts come December 25, we’ll eat our Santa hat.
Michael Bublé - Christmas (10th Anniversary)
Can you carbon date a song? Because it’s genuinely impossible to tell whether the new tracks tacked onto this “deluxe” edition of Michael Bublé’s mega-selling Christmas album are, in fact, new. We’re assured they are, but frankly, Bublé’s cockle-warming croon is so ageless that there’s no way of knowing if we’re in Christmas past or present. Regardless, you’ve almost got to respect the barefaced profiteering of reissuing an album not once, but twice within the space of a decade (it was first released in 2011, and again in 2012). That, surely, is the true spirit of the season.
Shaggy - Christmas in the Islands (Deluxe Edition)
Not only is this the second time Shaggy has released the same album within the space of a year (the only difference being a few extra tracks), it also features the second time the reggae superstar has teamed up with regular collaborator Sting for a rendition of Silent Night. Why not, eh — it’s bloody Chrismtas! Sting’s contributions are amusingly earnest, but Shaggy’s ad-libs (“All is calm (real calm!)/ All is bright (uh-huh!)”) are just fantastic.
Mariah Carey - Fall in Love at Christmas feat. Khalid and Kirk Franklin
You know those irksome relatives who roll out the “Oh don’t buy me any presents, I’ve already got everything I need!” line every Christmas? We feel that Mariah Carey should adopt the equivalent approach for new Christmas singles — why does the woman whose pre-existing juggernaut strongarms its way into the festive charts each year need another one? Especially when it’s as gloopy as this. It takes an age to get going, and when it does, it sounds like three different songs glued together as one. If that hard-to-buy-for family member is overstaying their welcome on the 25th, whack this on the speakers and they’ll soon be on their way.
Leona Lewis - Christmas, With Love Always
Don’t call it a reissue! This one is, officially, a “repack” of Leona Lewis’ 2013 album Christmas, With Love. It had some undeniable bangers on it — One More Sleep is one of standout festive tracks from the post-All I Want For Christmas Is You era (which has otherwise been pretty barren) — but the new lead single for this release, a lovey-dovey duet with Noughties smoothie Ne-Yo, doesn’t quite brussel our sprouts.
ABBA - Little Things
Not only did we recently get a new ABBA album for the first time in 40 years, we’ve also been given the group’s first ever Christmas single — hard to believe for a band who have sounded quite so hygge in the past. The album as a whole wasn’t quite the triumphant return we’d all been hoping for, and it’s no less sad to say that the sickly sweet Little Things isn’t a Christmas miracle either.
The Lathums - Krampus
Wigan four-piece the Lathums are the unlikely lads — back in October they saw off competition from Drake to score a UK number one album, and now they’ve delivered a Christmas song inspired by Krampus, a horned mythological creature dreamt up in Alpine folklore to scare naughty children (‘tis the season, right…?) The song is nowhere near as nightmarish as the title suggests, though, and is in fact rather catchy.
Gary Barlow - The Dream of Christmas
Big Gaz has had a busy couple of lockdowns. Not only has the Take That man launched his own organic wine brand, he’s also come out with a big ol’ Christmas album (a whopping 16 tracks if you count the bonus material on the deluxe version). It’s a mix of big band covers and original compositions, with features ranging from Sheridan Smith to Sheku Kanneh-Mason. But despite all that, the album is about as middle of the road as it gets — maybe a glass or two of Savvy B from the Barlow cellar would liven things up a bit.
Jamie Cullum - The Pianoman at Christmas (The Complete Edition)
Oh, this is classy. Leave your paper hats at the door — this is music to accompany your Ottolenghi-recipe mince pies, sophisticatedly swilled vintage whisky, monogrammed velvet slippers, and £200 gold-tipped Christmas tree. Slade could never! All jokes aside, this jazzy set of 13 new festive tracks from Mr Cullum is about as tasteful a yuletide album as you’ll hear. Lovely stuff.
Blondie - Yuletide Throwdown
This year’s award for the most unexpected band to be releasing a Christmas song goes to… Blondie! It’s not really a newbie, though, and is fact from 1981, recently unearthed by the band while digging through old material for an archival box set. Originally released as a free flexi-disc by UK magazine Flexipop, it features rapping from Fab 5 Freddy — Blondie geeks will enjoy it as a precursor to one of the band’s biggest hits, Rapture, but the rest of us can appreciate how strangely un-Christmassy it is.
Jess Gillam - Christmas Singles
This is a delightful trio of tracks from saxophonist Jess Gillam. There’s a Nutcracker medley that sounds as chipper as a snow-flecked robin, a beautiful rendition of Carol of the Bells — on which Gilliam plays all 16 saxophone parts — and a sophisticatedly smooth take on John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Happy Christmas (War Is Over). We’ll raise a glass (of mulled wine) to that.
Billy Porter - Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
Any take on a classic Christmas ditty that leans further towards “groovy” than “gooey” goes down well for us, and that’s exactly why we’re fans of this nifty cover from actor/singer/fashionista/all-round legend Billy Porter. With a beat to get even your half-drunk gran dancing around the Christmas tree, and the well-chosen addition of some positively gleeful horns, it’s a delight.
Kelly Clarkson - When Christmas Comes Around…
There’s a track here called Christmas Isn’t Cancelled (Just You) — but before the Twitter bots get all hot and bothered, it’s not a Woke Wars rebuttal, but rather a (totally apolitical) break-up song. Elsewhere on Kelly Clarkson’s second Christmas album, there’s an exuberant duet with Ariana Grande — the woman responsible for one of the very best modern Christmas songs, Santa Tell Me — a smoky jazz-club rendition of Last Christmas, and plenty more festive cheer.
Norah Jones - I Dream of Christmas
This is about as Norah Jones-y as you could expect a Christmas album to be, which seems fair enough, seeing as this is a Christmas album made by Norah Jones. That’s certainly not a bad thing — Jones’s laid-back approach to fusing old-school jazz and smooth pop sensibilities actually results in one of the most interesting festive releases we’ve heard this year, especially on the original compositions. Very much one to put on once you’ve worked your way through Cullum’s festive collection.