Christmas Songs & Father Christmas
A standard Christmas greeting amongst Bad Religion fans is to pass on the song lyric ‘and we’ll pretend it’s Christmas Day, in my atomic…garden’, which is one of two references the band have made to the season on a studio album. That is, until with the release of the LP ‘Christmas Songs’, and the single ‘Father Christmas’, which will add a plethora of seasonal greetings to our armour. However, for Bad Religion, this concept is nothing new.
Back in 1993, the band played a special show for the KROQ radio Christmas show, in which they played ‘Silent Night’, a cover of FEAR’s ‘Fuck Christmas’, and at the end of American Jesus, did a breakdown outro of Band Aids ‘Feed The World’. It is clear that Bad Religion have previously embraced Christmas, which may seem strange to a band that relentlessly pick holes into theological thought and actively promote a naturalist worldview, so why the sudden decision to record and release a Christmas LP?
Perhaps the savvy Epitaph owner, the bands co-lead songwriter and studio guitarist, Brett Gurewtiz, saw how well the Descendents Christmas jumpers had sold, and decided that he wanted a slice of the Christmas profits pie? In all seriousness, in recent interviews with the band, it seems that the only reason they have done it is for fun, and to poke fun at Christians, for adopting what is essentially a secular practice.
Due to it’s religious nature in mass culture, Christmas is a season that is often shunned by punks, yet the Christmas song has been attempted by punk bands in the past, to varying degrees of success, failure, and outright racism (not punk but an example of it being wrongly interpreted). So how does ‘Christmas Songs’ bear up in relation to our cultures past?
One of the standout tracks is ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’, which has the most distinctive and familiar Bad Religion guitar sound. These are preceded by ‘Hark! The Heralds Angel Sing’, which features a glittering array of vocal harmonies, and ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’, which every time I hear the intro makes me think of ‘Razorburn’ by Lagwagon. When I say that these songs are already starting to sound too familiar, is it Jay Bentley that is now sporting a beard of shame?
The weakest track has to be ‘White Christmas’ – an obvious choice to cover, and its only saving grace is the strong nod to the Ramones’ down strumming and rhythms on the guitars. On the flip side, the most innovative cover comes in the form of ‘Little Drummer Boy’- a complex song which must be very difficult to play in a punk-rock style – they’ve done a good job and further given a nod to the past by using a Dead Kennedy’s riff for the backing track. Covering other bands riffs to cover other bands songs is a novel approach for the covers album.
The penultimate track is ‘Angel We Have Heard On High’, which is a perfect song to witness the classic Greg Graffin oozing ‘woahs’ and ‘ahhs’ for singing ‘Glo…ria in Excelsis Deo’. The rest is somewhat disappointing as it features two previously released songs, ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’, which is from the Holiday Sampler released in 1997, and an American Jesus remix which was featured in the 1993 American Jesus sampler CD. Perhaps the latter and final song was a strategic ploy to lure the casual listener into their back catalogue – a move not out of sorts with three wise men.
At 9 tracks long – it only contains enough music to fill up one side of my ‘Christmas Green’ coloured European release vinyl – leaving a smart imprint design on the reverse side. This release is also supported by a one-sided 7” single, which features a cover of ‘Father Christmas’ by the Kinks. Top points for the obscure choice, and the lyrics poignantly remind us to remember the poor at Christmas time – which goes to show how we can keep the spirit and message of Christmas without having to dilute it and revert to religious dogma.
Perhaps the best thing about this release though, in an age where all workers are feeling the squeeze of the greedy capitalist, is that the band are giving away 20% of the proceeds to SNAP, a survivors network of those abused by priests. If that isn’t a symbolic punk gesture in the Bad Religion Christmas spirit I don’t know what is. This may not be a strong or imaginative music release, yet a Bad Religion release is better than most other releases, and to get two studio albums released in one year is the best Christmas present of all.
- Lukas Schwarzbrennen