Every year, people bemoan how early Christmas comes around in terms of advertising and high-street decorations. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t breathed a quiet sigh upon seeing a twinkle of tinsel in a shop window before we had reached what I would consider the festive threshold. I’m far from the sort of too-cool dullard who’ll witheringly put down the most wonderful time of the year, but if Die Hard and that Coca-Cola advert haven’t been on television yet, I don’t wanna know.
It appears Cheap Trick didn’t get the memo, though, dropping a Yuletide album before Halloween. The seminal Illinoisans are no strangers to Christmasification, having reworked ‘Come On, Come On’ and their signature song ‘I Want You To Want Me’ into jingling, sleigh bell-adorned versions in the past. There are some pressing questions raised by the release of this record, though - why have they waited until their 44th anniversary to cash in on the holiday season? Why indeed have they dropped it so early? Why is it named twice? Could it possibly be as bad as Twisted Sister’s?
The album is by and large a covers collection, including some obvious choices from their glam forefathers, as well as some more leftfield numbers. There are also a few of their own offerings. ‘Merry Christmas Darlings’ - not related to The Carpenters song - is the first of these, and it’s irritatingly catchy. That’s not particularly surprising, though - Cheap Trick know more about hooks than Abu Hamza’s physiotherapist, but their ever-ebullient pop rock is well suited to festive party anthems. ‘I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day’ and ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’ don’t receive any remarkable makeover, but the pomp and stomp of Wizzard and Slade is one that Cheap Trick take to like a duck to water.
‘Silent Night’, however, they take to like a duck to a frozen pond. Singer Robin Zander’s pipes are still in tip-top shape in his bus-pass years, but there’s a disconcerting lack of tongues in cheeks as he croons the carol over discordant ambience and guitar feedback. The three men who comprise the band today should be wiser than this. A slow number on which they shine more brightly is blues standard ‘Please Come Home For Christmas’, which sees guitar-toting, living cartoon character Rick Nielsen gift us with some sultry licks. Things get slower still on the striking, self-penned carol, ‘Our Father Of Life’, largely helmed by an obligatory youthful choir; it’s nowhere near identifiable as Cheap Trick until it segues into the title track, a more up-tempo punk version in which the cherubic voices are substituted for Zander’s expectorative bark. Combined, it’s somewhat symbolic of a perfect British Christmas Day; a sedate afternoon of easy listening and feigning interest in the Queen’s speech that descends into a noisy, aggressive piss-up.
Christmas albums generally have a snowflake’s chance in hell of scoring favourably with critics. Condescending eyes are always going to roll at the very idea - it took a while for my cynicism to turn to cheer - but the band manage to offer something more surprising than your average cash-in. Be that as it may, this is just a novelty stocking filler compared to this year’s record proper, We’re All Alright! - next to that, here, Cheap Trick fall short of truly pulling a cracker.
6Andy McDonald's Score