“I don’t believe in your religion, I only know what I can see,” Andy Bell of Erasure sings on “Bells of Love (Isabelle’s of Love)”, the opening track of the British synthpop duo’s holiday album, their first new material in two years. This serves as a kind of disclaimer to reassure the listener that this is a secular effort, despite the J-word popping up here and there on a few covers of old, Jesus-centric standards. New and old tunes occupy the same space here, begrudgingly so. The effect can be off-putting at best, like someone pouring Four Loko in your eggnog.
Old Christmas favorites like “Bleak Midwinter” are, admittedly, pretty hard to fuck up, and Bell and his cohort of over 20 years, Vince Clarke, do it justice with deep, rich vocals and a measured pace. Likewise, “Silver Bells” is pretty innocuous and even enjoyable, as long as you’re a fan of the song in the first place. With the exception of the bizarre choice of traditional 16th century carol “Gaudete” (why choose something this antiquated that’s going to clash so profoundly with the band’s modern ethos?), all of the time-honored songs go down pretty easy, some even making a case to be added to retail industry playlists across the country as we speak.
The originals here are a little harder to swallow. “Loving Man” is the only track on the album that isn’t explicitly holiday-themed, and while the upbeat song would probably serve just fine as a new radio single, it feels awkward when shoehorned between “Silent Night” and “The Christmas Song”. “There’ll Be No Tomorrow” is a chore to listen to; you can almost hear Bell and Clarke wracking their brains and running some free association: “I got my very best wishes for the season, only wanted somebody to love,” Bell sings. The rest of the lyrics are equally labored, and you can’t help but wish that some producer had the foresight to cut the track entirely. Ultimately, Snow Globe doesn’t know what it wants to be, an album of covers or a showcase for the band’s return, and it sucks some of the joy out of the holiday favorites while it painstakingly tries to figure it out.
Essential Tracks: “Bleak Midwinter”, “Loving Man”