For the perfect soundtrack to your Primark Christmas shopping, Keane frontman Tom Chaplin brings you Twelve Tales Of Christmas. Mixing originals with covers, the album is a collection of soft mope-rock with festive overtones. It should be familiar to fans of Keane’s chart-topping hits Bedshaped and Somewhere Only We Know. On Twelve Tales…,Chaplin’s voice remains as bland and inoffensive as ever, and he’s not helped by standard MOR arrangements from producer David Kosten (Bat For Lashes, Snow Patrol).
The album starts reasonably well, with Chaplin’s cover of Christmas classic Walking In The Air. The instrumentation is a moody, late-night blues guitar vamp and Bond-esque strings counteracting Chaplin’s voice. The other covers fare less well, however. The Pretenders 2000 Miles is re-rendered as a joyless dirge, his fey choirboy delivery overly emoting on a forgettable muzak background. The line ‘it felt like Christmas time’ has never sounded so unintentionally ironic. Elsewhere, covers of Joni Mitchell’s River and East 17’s Stay are nullified by a leaden arrangement that slows the songs down to a lumpen crawl. Christmas albums should arguably be more upbeat affairs, or at least allow some wit and self-awareness into the mix.
Aside from the covers on offer here, Chaplin’s attempts to add to the Christmas canon fall short of the mark. A painful earnestness occupies the singer throughout, with titles like Another Lonely Christmas, For The Lost, and Say Goodbye (sample lyric: “I can’t shake the memory / Set in my concrete heart”). A welcome variation from the usual Christmas mood is to be encouraged, but Chaplin’s delivery and lyrical mournfulness render the whole thing safe and tedious. If you’re a fan of Keane, add 2 stars to this review. Otherwise, stick to the classics and dust off your favourite Christmas compilation for the festive season.