Robbie Williams’ ‘The Christmas Present’: the album no one asked for
Image Description: Album art for The Christmas Present: Williams in top hat and tails in front of a Christmassy shop window.
Robbie Williams’ new Christmas album, The Christmas Present is, frankly, nothing less than awful. In case you’re reading this and thinking that it can’t be that bad, one example is enough. In the song, ‘Can’t Stop Christmas’ he sings “Santa’s on his sleigh but now he’s two metres away”. ‘Can’t Stop Christmas’, as becomes obvious in the opening line “oh what a miserable year”, is the coronavirus Christmas song cross-over that no one, literally not a single soul, ever asked for.
Singing about Zoom seems to be an attempt at being zeitgeisty and unusual, but instead comes off as alarmingly apocalyptic. Christmas songs are supposed to be cheery, escapist, and fun – I would rather not think about Father Christmas stockpiling PPE for the elves and sanitising his hands before every mince pie. The lyric “some friends have disappeared” is tactless in the extreme, and later in the album, his whisper: “Night night everyone, night night” after a discussion of how difficult 2020 has been is nothing short of terrifying.
the coronavirus Christmas song cross-over that no one, literally not a single soul, ever asked for.
At twenty-nine songs long, it is a hefty Christmas album. Musically, these songs sound much like every other Robbie Williams song has sounded for the last few decades – his voice is recognisable, and there’s an attempt to be brilliantly vivacious which is rather dead on the inside. It achieves the almost impressive feat of being simultaneously stunted, slurry, throaty and sterile. At times it’s syncopated where it definitely shouldn’t be. The collaborations are not much better: Jamie Cullum provides no more jazzy edge than a key change, and Helene Fischer’s Santa Baby loses the coy flirtatiousness and becomes full-on X-rated. I don’t know why Tyson Fury is on the album. But he is.
As you continue to listen, you begin to think it’s getting better, and then it manages to be awful on a whole new level. ‘Coco’s Christmas Lullaby’ is a highlight: it feels lyrical, flowing and genuinely quite sweet. Until children start singing, at which point it becomes distinctly creepy. ‘Yeah! It’s Christmas’ is actually quite witty, with lines like: “all I get is socks and bills to pay”. The dry humour about burnt turkey and family arguments is Williams’ offering of something new. Had he kept to this tongue-in-cheek vibe throughout, he could have come off as more than a less glittering substitute for Michael Bublé, and it would have been a much better album.
As you continue to listen, you begin to think it’s getting better, and then it manages to be awful on a whole new level.
But so much of it, especially his version of ‘Winter Wonderland’ is a painful attempt to emulate the gravitas of original versions. This is the central issue with this album: instead of being authentic in any way, it’s a terrible copy and paste imitation of Christmas albums past. And did we need another version of ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’ with no real changes made? Not really.
Discussing ‘Rudolph’, a song he describes as a song “about Father Christmas… and Rudolph”, Williams said “I think the big trick in writing Christmas songs is writing songs you think you’ve heard before”. But there is a reason I’ve never heard “down a can in Kazakhstan” as a line in a Christmas song before. No level of sampling from better Christmas songs make this pleasant listening. Perhaps a bottle of mulled wine in it would become bearable.
Perhaps a bottle of mulled wine in it would become bearable
The Guardian wrote that The Christmas Present was ‘perfect for regifting’, but you should only regift it to someone you don’t like. Stay more than 2 metres away from this disaster.