If you’re anything like Eric Clapton, the Christmas season can never start too soon.
OK, I don’t honestly know if that’s how Clapton feels, but I do know that he released a Christmas album today. I also know that today is October 12, which means the Virgin Mary is barely in her third trimester.
Much of Happy Xmas is what you’d expect from an Eric Clapton album —a bluesy “White Christmas,” ballads both joyous and lovelorn, lotta guitar. What this album’s release means for most people is that they can now finish their holiday shopping for Dad.
What it means for me is that I can finally hear “Jingle Bells (In Memory of Avicii).”
Before we go any further, let me say that Avicii’s apparent suicide in April at the age of 28 was sad and shocking and I would never mock or trivialize his death. So I intend no disrespect to the late EDM DJ/producer’s memory or to Clapton’s sincerity when I say I never expected to live in a world where a song was called “Jingle Bells (In Memory of Avicii).” From the moment the Happy Xmas tracklist was announced in August, I have needed to hear what such a song could possibly be.
I don't think anybody expected Clapton to dedicate a song to Avicii. Billboard noted vaguely that Clapton recorded the track “due to the singer's admiration for the late DJ.” “It’s unclear what personal connection Clapton has to the late DJ,” according to Rolling Stone.
More to the point, though, nobody expects any living person to dedicate a version of “Jingle Bells” to any dead person.
It’s safe to say that I haven’t anticipated an Eric Clapton release as ravenously as I have “Jingle Bells (In Memory of Avicii)” since—well, come to think of it, I guess I’ve never really anticipated an Eric Clapton release. But now Christmas has come two and a half months early for me, so consider this blog post the equivalent of an unboxing video, except you don’t have to look at my dumb face while I bask in pre-holiday cheer. (I am a little disappointed that the Spotify version, and perhaps the official album version, has ditched the parenthetical, but I'm still calling it by its original title.)
Let’s listen to “Jingle Bells (In Memory of Avicii)” together, friends.
0:00 – Clapton’s idea of EDM sounds a whole lot like a Talking Heads outtake demo from Remain in Light. But, like, just the intro.
0:20 – The track is “building” a little, as they say. Which is not to say that it’s noticeably building toward anything resembling “Jingle Bells.”
0:30 – You know how a half-minute in to the beginning of “Just Like Heaven” you think “OK, this has to be the part where Robert Smith sings ‘Show me, show me, show me’ and instead that guitar keeps noodling away and then a little while after that you’re like “OK, this has definitely got to be the part where he starts singing” and you’re wrong again? This is like that, but without the guarantee that anything will ever happen.
0:45 – There’s a Spotify commercial where the announcer listens to these fake electronic tracks and keeps saying “skip” to get to the next one and I think this is one of those songs?
1:05 – Still nothing that sounds like “Jingle Bells.”
1:10 – Some staccato keyboards out of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Relax” are slashing against the beat, which makes sense since Clapton probably hasn’t gone near a synthesizer since around the time of the Iran-Contra hearings.
1:15 – Wait, “Jingle Bells” might actually be happening.
1:22 – I am happy to report that we have achieved “Jingle Bells.”
1:24 – Or at least a “Jingle Bells”-adjacent melody.
1:38 – These chopped up female voices want to sing the words to “Jingle Bells” so bad, you can just tell. They’re so close. Let them dash through the snow, Eric.
1:53 – Well, Mr. Eric Clapton has had quite enough of “Jingle Bells” for now, apparently.
1:57 – This is stranger than I even hoped for.
2:01 – This riff coulda sold a lot of beer in the ’80s.
2:11 – The “Relax” keyboards are back and I keep waiting for the “BOWM BOWM BOWM” synth bass.
2:25 – And now it’s time for the breakdown.
2:45 – What kind of “Jingle Bells” doesn’t have any barking dogs?
3:00 – Eric, Lenny Kravitz called. He says this guitar riff is too basic.
3:25 – Oh, I can sense some “Jingle Bells” in the air.
3:30 – I was right—more “Jingle Bells.”
3:48 – Those disembodied angelic lady voices are back, and they kind of get to sing the lyrics this time.
4:00 – We’re back in the non-”Jingle Bells” groove. All right!
4:15 – The riff has gone from innocuous to annoying to hypnotic. I feel drowsy and uncommonly open to suggestion. I will buy any beer or Lenny Kravitz CDs anyone tells me to.
4:20 – Time stops.
4:45 – No way have I been listening to this for less than five minutes. I am going to throw open my window like Scrooge and shout “You there, boy! What day is it?”
5:00 – There are supposedly only 58 more seconds to go but I can no longer imagine a world where this song isn’t playing.
5:30 – OK, we’re down to the beat.
5:15 – Ah, who am I kidding? This is a new Christmas standard.
0:00 – Let’s do it again.