Though the music is warm, and comedian Helen Arney’s voice soulful, this collection of Christmas ditties is a dispiriting affair, with its relentless references to family arguments, miserable presents and dull food. Perhaps she’s witnessed too many tough Christmas stand-up gigs, but she has a bleak view of the festivities.
Individually, the tracks have quirk and wit, but taken in one sitting it’s an overindulgent feast of joylessness, hardly in the spirit of the season – even though a last-minute rally, with the two closing tracks, puts a small glint of hope and even jollity into the mix.
The lyrics – which Arney co-wrote with drummer Paul Richards – are as reliant on stereotypes as any overplayed sleigh-bells and tinsel Yuletide hit – though this time the clichés are about short-tempers, Christmas starting early, relatives overstaying their welcome, terrible knitwear…
There’s a reason such things are clichéd, so the unsentimental honesty will certainly strike a chord with many. But those who enjoy Christmas despite its flaws surely won’t want to hear such humbug, even if set to a cheery melody, while those who hate the season will presumably not want a musical reminder of their misery.
Christmas songs certainly don’t have to be festive – Fairytale Of New York, for instance, is anything but – yet overall this collection didn’t quite cut the cranberry. Give me White Wine In The Sun any day…
Track by track
Christmas 1994: A rich, tango-infused cabaret song with rather workaday lyrics about a family fighting over what to watch in days when there were only four channels and one TV.
Never Built A Snowman: Melancholic ballad that’s a flipside to the Aled Jones film, in which a boy is traumatised for life after being attacked by a frosty thug
It’s Going To Be An Awkward Christmas, Part 1: Jaunty number about a couple pretending to be together for the sake of the relatives, that can be summed up with the lovely line: ‘Life’s not always Gavin and Stacey’. The first of four tracks here in which fellow musical comedian Tom McDonnell provides male vocals
Another Mince Pie? A spoken word piece over a church organ, cataloguing some of the irritations of Christmas, with a nice payoff, but rather downbeat
Christmas Dinner Microwave Meal For One: A recently divorced man spends a miserable December 25
Only Monopoly: After the family row over TV, here’s the cabaret two-hander about board games; compellingly performed and charmingly written, but rather a familiar idea
It’s Going To Be An Awkward Christmas, Part 2: Tension breaks in the continuing story when the pair come clean, and he’s confined to the doghouse
The Only Way To Spend Christmas: A catalogue of tired jokes about budget airlines – airports in the middle of nowhere; extra charges for everything; lost luggage, etc etc . A jolly little tune, but fatally unimaginative lyrics.
Office Party: Comedian Terry Saunders makes an appearance here, and his distinctive deadpan makes the track sound more like one of his romantic lo-fi stories – as, indeed, does the content, which revolves around two unrequited office romances – an ordinary story of admiration from afar, set over the network printer and boozy nights out in Wetherspoon’s made delicately tender and poignant. A highlight.
Traditional Family Christmas: The chorus ends with the line: ‘The real meaning of Christmas is the family argument.’ Yes, it’s that topic again, although this is probably the best track on the subject on the album – musically aping jolly Yuletide hits, with catchy tune and a jolly tone, despite the sentiment
It’s Going To Be An Awkward Christmas, Part 3: A glimmer of hope in the ongoing saga… but is it enough for a merry Christmas?
- It's Going to Be an Awkward Christmas, Darling by Helen Arney and Paul Richards has been independently released. Click here to buy from iTunes for £6.99 – of which £1 will be donated to Shelter and Cancer Research UK if bought by December 26.