As long as there has been music vying to be the Christmas No. 1 there have been songs that challenge such modern traditions. This latest offering from Spray is ironically both. In their usual infectious, humorous and slightly off-beat pop way The Ballad of Xmas ’99 (Oh Cliff) tells the story of…well, you can probably work most of it out from the title. It looks back at their shot to be the sonic Christmas cracker of that year only to be defeated by the usual suspects including the infamous, wired for snooze, Cliff.
You can probably tell from the title that the song comes from a slightly tongue in cheek place. A song about a band with some success back in the day – magazine coverage, the obligatory NME crucifying review, liner notes by Gary Crowley – now sustaining the latter part of their music career through back catalogue releases. But Anthologised by Cherry Red it is much more than just a flippant pop song.
For a start it is a brilliant pop song, a thing of sleek and vibrant beauty, the sort thing that Sparks or The Buggles hitting their most commercial critical mass would have killed to have got their hands on. It is a statement about the music industry today, about bands of the past fading into the record label back-catalogue of history, the museum piece anthologies and compilation albums of the would-be nostalgia tripper. Through the humour singer Jenny McLaren makes a very valid point saying, “It’s also an observation about the state of the music industry. If the business is based on catalogue reissues, where are the catalogue reissues of the future going to come from?”
That’s the clever thing, on one level it is just a great and infectious pop platter, on another it is a self-deprecating poke at bands and the industry they find themselves working in and then deeper down it has something very valid to say about the very future of the business. Pop with hidden depths…who’d have thought it?