At the heart of this collection, one that is as “will this do?” as its half-arsed artwork, is a six-minute version of Jingle Bells: “In Memory of Avicii.” The suicide of the Swedish DJ apparently affected Clapton, and the notion of his tribute, extending a hand from blues to EDM, is strangely touching. The actual song, less so. Jingles and bells are scant; really, the only festive thing about this track’s wan longueur is how precisely it evokes a 12-year-old boy opening his first Casio keyboard on Christmas morn and trying out all the presets. Balearic euphoria! Tropical house shuffle! Haunting vocal refrain! It is utterly baffling, and the sharp end of an album that brings the same deathly approach to the standards.
Christmas albums are a bizarre concept: they endure because people enjoy hearing voices they like singing songs they know. But Clapton sounds barely recognisable on these ghosts of Christmas songs past. His diminished voice heaves out Away in a Manger as if between sobs. On a collection profoundly lacking in seasonal trimmings, he occasionally buries some cursory sleigh bells deep in the mix. The cyborg smoothness of Silent Night is chilling in its uncanniness. At least Christmas Tears is aptly named for the effect induced by its combination of 12-bar blues’ lusty strut and Yankee Candle phoniness. The one original song, For Love on Christmas Day, has a funereal shudder. “I look up and I wonder, have I lost my guiding star?” Clapton sings. The question answers itself.