Saturday, 13 October 2018

Eric Clapton 'Happy Xmas' and Matt Berry 'Television Themes', album reviews

Yin Yang Yang Yin

Here are two albums so similar and yet so different. One is from a part-time musician [really, though he is, by all accounts, steeped in music more widely] and the other is a legend, quite correctly. Both albums take music that will be hugely familiar to their prospective audiences, different in scale for all kinds of obvious reasons, but each having a pervasive knowableness that makes them inherently immediate and fascinating because of being interpreted. Both are at times quite hilarious, one intentionally, the other not so.

I am not adverse at all to Christmas music/albums, though at Christmas and not in October, but Clapton’s effort – cynical xmas creation or passionate impulse, you decide – was too interesting to avoid having a quick listen. I have over many years enjoyed Christmas recordings from heavy metal to bluegrass to jazz, and in fact rate James Taylor’s Jingle Bells as quite simply one of the funkiest songs ever – so again I would stress Clapton’s attempt at ‘making it his own’ would, if it did, fall on welcoming ears. White Christmas opens the album and to a degree delivers its remit which is a bluesy interpretation – nothing original or stunning but pleasant enough. This is followed by Away in a Manger which is absolutely dreadful, its slowness and thus focus on the lyrics simply tedious. Perhaps a ‘believer’ would be tuned in – I don’t know. Not a carol as such but I’d happily listen and enjoy if sung by a choir. But this is terrible.

Starting Matt Berry’s album is such a joy [though I’ll be honest straight away and say I don’t feel the quality is sustained]. But Are You Being Served? begins with a nano-second’s thought that this is Pink Floyd’s Money [how easily one can forget] and then it quickly grooves into the well-known theme tune, and it is a jazzy gem – the horns perfect [though on the original?] – drums and bass providing some spunky funk until the ‘tannoy’ voice lays down the quintessential familiarity of this song. The Good Life follows and this is pretty much a straight representation, but in the context of TV themes music it delivers precisely that, again the drumming and bass lines providing some element of spark. Thames Television is just the opening horn bit at 7 seconds. Genius. Dr Who obviously allows for some electronics to spark that one up. World in Action is one of the strongest, probably because as a theme tune it isn’t as obvious as the others – for this listener anyway. All of that said, by this point in the album, I feel my delight has been sated.

Back to Clapton, his Jingle Bells rings like a programmed ditty looped to its electronic oblivion as we listen. It ain’t the blues. Lonesome Christmas does take the blues and use it aptly; Merry Christmas Baby is again fully in the blues groove. These both work. Then Silent Night asserts with a dirge of a single drum beat and a fairly laid-back choral backdrop. What was the point?

Neither will make my Christmas/2018 Best music list.

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