Christmas records are a real curse on the music world. Take an artist who has previously confirmed themselves as a chart big-hitter and watch them compromise their ideals for a song with 15 mentions of 'Rudolph'. As a fan, it's disheartening, and not a little embarrassing. As an artist, it's a pension, because after all, there are only so many Christmas records out there, right?
Well, until this year. The market has been flooded in the 2008 holidays, with Christmas singles from not just the usual pop suspects, but from everyone who ever dared consider themselves alternative - The Killers, The Hives, The Wombats, to name but a few.
Of all the artists to have appeared this season with a collection of Christmas crackers, Glasvegas may at first seem 'the band least likely to'.
Their hard-edged Glaswegian rock is heavy on distortion and light on laughs, after all. 'Daddy's Gone', their debut single, told the tale of a child neglected by his father, while 'Flowers And Football Tops' addresses a Scottish teen who is abducted and killed. Edgy stuff.
But by the same token, the band, hailing from industrial Dalmarnock in Glasgow, carved out a sound on their eponymous debut which owes a lot to the King of Christmas recordings, Phil Spector. Even on non-seasonal songs, they delve heavily into the 'wall of sound' aesthetic, with nothing but respect for it.
So it is that Glasvegas spent 12 days in Transylvania recording this most atmospheric of records. As the first chimes of opener 'Careful What You Wish For' ring out, it seems clear that this is much more than a cynical recording exercise - it's the chance for this band to do something truly entertaining and exciting. "Christmas time is here again," intones James Allan in his inimitable Glaswegian accent, and it feels like something truly wonderful and terrifying all at the same time. The song showcases the vocal stylings of the Romanian Concentus choir, who do seem to offer some unnecessary gilding on a particularly ungainly lily, but all in keeping with the gothic emphasis of the sessions.
Unfortunately, the build up to greatness is hampered by "Fuck You, It's Over", apparently Allan's trawl through his sixth form diaries. The guitar sound is strident, strutting in with menace, but quickly softens out to leave the title words baldly stated. The whole thing - fairly self-explanatory from that title - plays like an exercise in juvenalia, and really jars against the other songs on here.
"Cruel Moon" addresses homelessness, with its honest lyrics making a mockery of the deliciously lush guitars. There's a whole lot of soul in every vowel Allan spits, and even though the literal nature of the lyrics can be unnerving, it is refreshing to hear "It's Christmas Eve and I'm out on the street" without a hint of irony.
The payoff for the whole venture comes with the title track. Graced with a gentle musicality which brings to mind the stoic Christmases of Dickens, Allan's vocal cracks with emotion, a harsh juxtaposition beside the delicate orchestration.
Playing out with the Concentus Choir's "Silent Night (Noapte de Vis)", there's a lasting impression of Christmas from Glasvegas, but with added doom. Their 'songs in the key of the Jesus and Mary Chain' schtick is a refreshing change, and making it a Christmas record has only served to lend the songs a tinge of melancholia which they richly embrace. A stellar Christmas star - and it felt like a kiss.