The World Isn't Ready For Kate Miller-Heidke And The Beards' Christmas Single

26 November 2015 | 5:26 pm | Ross Clelland

"I can’t see much international success for the ditty, it being sadly destined to fail in the Brazilian charts at the least.”

As previously advised, there are precious few potential redeeming features to the Christmas novelty single. Slight allowance is made for said seasonal bon-bon at least being for charity, and perhaps some leeway can be offered if the tune goes outside the usual parameters of praise for legendary creatures you may choose to believe in such as Santa, flying reindeer, and/or the baby Jebus.

Fulfilling various of those conditions, Kate Miller-Heidke – in cahoots with that most hirsute of combos, The Beards – offer celebration of yuletide personal grooming, or lack thereof. I’m Growing A Beard Downstairs For Christmas (Cooking Vinyl) covers a subject not often considered among the chestnuts roasting on an open fire and such, and although the joke hasn’t to my knowledge been set to music before, these three-and-a-bit minutes should just about do it. OK, I laughed - but regrettably I can’t see much international success for the ditty, it being sadly destined to fail in the Brazilian charts at the least. It’s been made in the very good cause of supporting bowel cancer, although an old friend of mine’s marketing idea of that cause being better represented by a brown ribbon still stands. Now, if you could excuse me for a moment, I think I’ve got something stuck in my teeth.

So, those slight commercial and cultural doubts I expressed about series such as X-Factor and their ilk provoked a slight ripple of Twitter hate toward me last week – most of which was sent via from persons with iPhones in Pokemon cases, I believe. Suitably chastened, I watched the other night’s Grand Finale – ok, the promised duet of the Minogue Sisters also encouraged me – to note what would undoubtedly be the biggest selling song in the country by the time I wrote this. The stories and contestant types sorted themselves out as the ‘journey’ required. Chunky old mate who auditioned in the Hi-Vis shirt but did genuinely seem to love to just sing was first of the final four out. Leaving the sub-Angus&Julia karaoke duo who did genuinely seem to love to just sing, the country mum who was a bit of a spunk who did genuinely seem to love to just sing…and Cyrus: slightly exotic in appearance, but fresh-faced and unthreatening to your adolescent daughters, and maybe with just a whiff of that Pentecostal church that rhymes with ‘Tillbong’ – which seems to provide an less-than-proportional number of winners. All went as expected, with suitable amounts of cheers and tears, including delivery of the chosen one’s chosen single. It being titled Stone (Sony), and it goes a little like this:

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Oops, sorry. Understandable mistake. There being nothing new under the sun, really. But it actually goes exactly like this:       

Now, the real trick will be to come back to this post in a year or so, and reflect on whether any or all of these people are still part of the mass consciousness – or have we all moved on to the next season’s contenders?

Conversely, there are those artists who have endured, in some cases for decades. But can you take a 35-year-old song that was initially rejected for the album that’s now getting the ‘Anniversary Special Edition multi-CD set complete with outtakes and a coffee table picture book’ treatment? If you’re Bruce Springsteen, sure you can. Now, I love the old fella more than most, but am finding it hard to justify the $175 pricetag for the package, although I know many already with the order in for Santa to deliver. I’ll make do with little samples like this. Party Lights (Sony) is one of those entirely great songs that His Bruceness seemed to throw away with great regularity just because it didn’t fit, or feel right, or something. The battler’s relationships at the centre of The River album – already ending up a double helping of vinyl – often had Bruce in full retro mode, reference points somewhere between Elvis and Roy Orbison, somewhere between 1959 and 1963. This is another one of them. Note the sideburns.

Now, today’s unlikely cover version that works award winner. Again, it’s no secret my regard for the lugubrious croon of Jack Ladder, whether sans or avec his Dreamlanders. Dire Straits, not so much. Apparently quite by accident in rehearsal they fell into the Knopflers’ So Far Away (Self-Portrait/Inertia). With the added underpinning of Jason Walker’s always quality high plains twang on pedal steel replacing the author’s string-bending, it has a weary romance to it. The ‘Landers recent guesting support spot to the Florence + The Machine whirling dervish show gained them a number of new enthusiasts as they tackled one of the best/worst jobs in the world. This is just another proof of their nonchalant class.

Jeffrey Alexander is one of those myriad of those local should-be-more-known producer/arrangers who seem to quite effortlessly put together layers of sound, often electronic to make something of texture and emotion. Thing is, you still some point of distinction to help people notice. Thus, for Bones (Feelin’ Deep/Ministry Of Sound) engages the identifiable tones of Gossling for the ‘Featuring’ role. The result is something that has both light and dark to it, in the intersection of his insistent swing and her near-Appalachian keen. They suggest it is best served with a similarly-intentioned good pinot noir. This is an idea I can get behind.

Then again, there are those who feel the need to change up (or down) what they’re doing to better reflect where their head might currently be. For a causally disinterested observer like me, DIIV had elements of good ol’ krautrock four-squareness and cyclic riffing to them. But, ideally reflecting its title, Mire (Grant’s Song) (Captured Tracks) has Zachary Cole Smith intoning through a foggy sludge of guitars on the verge of feedback. Did somebody say ‘drugs’? Possibly. It’s the sound of a man struggling with something – whether that’s animal, vegetable, mineral, or pharmaceutical is open to the interpretation who appreciate the band’s/man’s work a little more than I wouldn’t even pretend to.

Adelaide’s Todd Sibbin seems to have found his voice and the music’s place with it with And We’ll Say That We’re Done (Independent). There’s a halting breathiness in it as it echoes, some invoking names like Oberst and Bon Iver. I think there’s a better hint in having Craig Schumacher as the mixer, which gives Sibbin some of the warm airy space of artists he’s worked with such as Calexico, particularly that rare She Lays In The Reins EP the fine Kraut-Mex band did with Iron & Wine. If he’s aspiring to a more austere take on that, more power to his arm. In the meantime, this is a song maybe on its way to that somewhere.   

While music has been devalued by this interweb thing in a lot of ways, it allows your music to be engaged in places beyond playing a gig at the pub on the corner of the bassplayer’s mum’s street. Cub Sport have already skirted in and around the American CMJ or ‘College’ charts, which might be one reason they have to confidence to try things beyond what a merely local-focussed band might. Only Friend (Title Track) really does have some of that feeling of disconnect that an anxiety attack or depression will give you. See, that sounds all rather ‘worthy’, doesn’t it? Thing is, they’ve also managed to make it a pretty good piece of pop music, even in its discomfort as that guitar line rolls over and over in your head.