Album: Smith & Burrows, Funny Looking Angels (B-Unique)
As no particular fan of either The Editors or Razorlight, I didn't expect to find much enjoyment in this Christmas album by Editors singer Tom Smith and former Razorlight drummer Andy Burrows; but such is the obvious chemistry between the two that Funny Looking Angels is far and away the most engaging of this year's seasonal offerings.
Featuring a blend of standards and originals spiced with judicious covers of sometimes obscure indie tracks, it manages to sustain a mood and attitude throughout without offering too many hostages to homogeneity. The opening "In the Bleak Midwinter" features Smith's lugubrious baritone against a hovering mist of chilly ambience, ultimately supplanted by a burst of epic illumination – the effect is as if the spirit of Elbow had been co-opted into Christmas duty.
It serves as the intro for the duo's own "When The Thames Froze", a blend of upright piano, martial snare and wan vocal that's just the right side of Coldplay-esque, with Smith finding succour from seasonal gloom in "skating across the Thames, hand in hand with all my friends". It's a pleasing notion to contrast against the fretful imagery elsewhere of streets filled with homeless and protestors, and Smith's heartfelt cry, "God damn this government/ Will they ever tell me where the money went?".
The biggest surprise, though, is Burrows's vocal charm on songs such as "As the Snowflakes Fall" and a cover of Yazoo's "Only You" assailed by vaunting sheets of synth and monochord piano. "As The Snowflakes Fall" is particularly lovely, with Burrows's falsetto harmonies echoed by fluting synth fills over the sleek piano groove, as he contemplates a winter epiphany. "Funny Looking Angels" itself, a cover of a little-known song by Birmingham indie band Delta, features a philanthropic message ("It's in my pocket, you can have it if I've got it") over a chunky handclap groove in which mandolin forms unusual alliance with burring horns; lowering brass also lends poignancy to a cover of The Longpigs' "On and On" led by Burrows' bittersweet assertion of co-dependency: "I wish you didn't need me/ And I wish I didn't love you so".
Elsewhere, Smith contributes a Snow Patrol-esque vocal to a cover of Black's "Wonderful Life", and duets with Agnes Obel on a slightly uncomfortable version of "The Christmas Song", while "This Ain't New Jersey" uses piano and celeste to effect a sort of Springsteen-ish slow burn behind another epiphany. This time, it's Smith who's initially complaining about the radio playing the same old songs each Christmas, and the TV always falling back on It's A Wonderful Life, before realising how comforted he is by the repetition. "We drink, we sing, and I forget the things that I need are here," he observes, finally thankful for the mercies afforded by the season. Hopefully, with several decent new additions to the Christmas canon included here, the radio won't be quite so repetitive in future.
DOWNLOAD THIS: When The Thames Froze; As The Snowflakes Fall; Funny Looking Angels; This Ain't New Jersey
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