Reviewed by Johan Palme on 10th January, 2016
When was the last time you heard a Christmas album that was actually fun? I don’t mean funny, in the sense of being a humorous novelty or something awful that a more malicious mindset might laugh at. But rather, the sort of uproarious, energy-pumping fun you’d get out of a good adventure film, exhilirating, visceral. Affirming your belief in humanity and creativity. Music can certainly accomplish that sort of thing, but for Christmas music, the prevailing mood usually is something very different. You get glimmers in Hal Blaine’s drum work on Phil Spector’s Christmas record, or in the more massively overwrought arrangments of Stan Kenton, but in a genre where calm generally triumphs crazy it’s rarely going to be a main feature, possibly excepting Peter Andre’s surprisingly decent attempt.
his record is a massive steamroller in comparison. 73-year-old Mae West, whose voice dates her to a vaudeville tradition from the 1910s, is incongrously paired with Somebody’s Chyldren, a band that could not exist in any year other than 1966. The result is a head-on clash between the jazz age and the psychedelic age, with bluesy, musty standards being utterly skewed on garage rock farfisa organ and jangly twelve-string guitar.
And the thing is, it sort of works! Mae West’s voice was never superbly-strong and is long past its prime, and the interpretations are questionable, but there’s a magic energy that permeates the proceedings. Everyone involved knows it’s all for fun, but they take that fun seriously in the sense of not just playing around. And at its peaks, the record contains some true jazz-psych-garage gems, like the fabulous original “Santa Come Up To See Me”, where Mae West bulldozes up into the very top of her head register. It truly makes you feel alive, even at Christmas.