The Christmas pop song is an art form, and when you tune into Christmas FM (which, according to the station’s Twitter account, will be back on the airwaves from 1pm on November 28th), you quickly realise it’s not an art form everyone can master.
However, pop maestro Sia proves that with her new album Everyday Is Christmas she can add the extra jingle needed liven up this festive season.
The album, written and produced by the Australian singer and Greg Kurstin, who have been an unstoppable hit-making duo since Sia’s 2010 album We Are Born, is an upbeat, joyous record, with handbells dinging in all the right places and not one mention of Jesus. Although the opening piano chords on Snowman – a ballad for her beloved Snowman, who shouldn’t cry because he’d just melt away – could be a deconstruction of O Holy Night. “Don’t cry Snowman, don’t leave me this way, a bottle of water can’t hold me close, baby,” she pleads with her coal-eyed pal.
Despite the threatening title of opening track Santa’s Coming for Us, Sia immediately lets us know that she is taking this Christmas album seriously. It’s not an attempt to get sexy with Santa, like Ariana Grande did on her Christmas and Chill EP from 2015. She’s not trying to modernise old classics, like Destiny’s Child’s did on their 2001 Christmas album, and she’s not cheapening the power of the children’s choir, as The Darkness did on their 2003 single Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End).
In fact, there’s not a sniff of a children’s choir here, just a chorus of dogs barking along on Puppies Are Forever, a celebration of our wet-nosed companions. “Found my best friend down the old dog pound,” she sings, whacking us over the head with more sentimentality than every John Lewis and Marks & Spencer ad combined.
Using 1950s melodies and trading in her usual synths and EDM leanings for a grand piano, she creates a whole new world where snowflakes have feelings (and not in the alt-right way) and on Ho Ho Ho, creamy bourbons don’t leave you with a fatal hangover or a touch of gout.
Sia’s Christmas is partially Disneyfied but rarely sickly sweet. Retail workers will rejoice when they hear the bouncy Candy Cane Lane that comes with a chorus that will save them from the Groundhog Day-effect of Slade’s Merry Xmas Everybody and Paul McCartney’s Wonderful Christmastime on repeat for eight weeks straight.
The bounty of good Christmas songs recorded this side of the millennium is small. We rely on Mariah Carey, The Pogues and Wham! to soundtrack last orders and at the start of November a joke circulated on Twitter that Michael Bublé had started the defrosting process so he could croon his way through December.
Perhaps the competition is too strong for new artists to make a dent in the pudding when they’re up against classic if technically awful songs, such as Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas? But Sia goes for gold (or red) with this offering. Shy flirtations take place on Underneath the Mistletoe, as expected, and on Sunshine, she offers a helping hand to a friend who has had a tough year. “I’m Santa’s helper and I’ve got your back,” she reassures us, subtly tackling the loneliness that many people experience during the most wonderful time of the year.
Christmas songs are an odd niche. They only work for a short time frame but they also need to fit in alongside tracks that have determined the sound and feel of this time of year for the past 70 years of commercial music. In the month of July, no pop star will have to ask themselves “Am I better than Shakin’ Stevens?” but in December that’s just how it goes.
This album was a chance for Sia and Kurstin to loosen up and have fun in the studio. And Kurstin has previous, given that he produced Kelly Clarkson’s 2013 album Wrapped in Red.
Everyday Is Christmas is simply a lovely album, full of heart and warmth. Sia’s typical material is emotionally heavy, and her usual approach is to belt out the tracks to convey her inner turmoil, on songs such as the 2015 single Chandelier. Here, though, her tone is relaxed, jolly, sweet and silly but Underneath the Christmas Lights, the final track, is laden with sorrow as her voice reaches an icy whistle pitch.
The true test for this album will come when Christmas FM goes back on air. She won’t stand a chance next to Mariah Carey – who does? – but in the cases of Bublé and The Darkness, they should hang their heads in shame next to this well-crafted, pure-hearted slice of Yule.