Aidan Moffat & RM Hubbert – Ghost Stories for Christmas
Aidan Moffat and RM Hubbert enter the festive fray on formidable form with a sobering and intoxicating Christmas album
Aidan Moffat and RM Hubbert enter the festive fray on formidable form with a sobering and intoxicating antidote to the sugar-sweet Christmas jingles and narratives we can’t always connect to; squeezed spots and traumatised trees in tow.
Ghost Stories for Christmas arrives hot on the heels of the Rock Action heroes' acclaimed debut Here Lies the Body, with the duo’s cover of Lonely This Christmas serving as a perfect (miserable) manifesto for their enticingly unorthodox coalition of Christmas. Gone are the sumptuous, soaring harmonies of Mud’s original. In their place, a drum machine as cold as Santa’s workshop when the heating packs in; and the lush, bruised baritone of Moffat: 'Merry Christmas doll, wherever you are'.
No escapism is to be found in Ode to Plastic Mistletoe, where 'the bargain fairy lights all flash and fizzle'. Instead, Moffat gives voice to solemn ghosts, the temporarily lost and yuletide participants made cynical by consumerism and alienated by the elusive resolution found by the young couples around them and on television screens.
This voyage into the hollow, existential void many find themselves trapped in during Coca Cola lorry season makes the tender reassurance of The Recurrence of Dickens all the more potent. 'If your glass be filled with reeking punch instead of sparkling wine,' Moffat begins, compassionate and charged with cheek as ever: 'Thank God it’s not worse'. His lens focuses upon 'present blessings' and the 'merry faces' of children while Jenny Reeve’s stirring violin guides us towards a grounded yet joyous conclusion only the most driven and committed of Scrooges could resist.
Such Shall You Be finds Hubbert on piano for the first (and hopefully not last) time, as Moffat shares a touching exchange between a father and a daughter before his protagonist retreats to the bathroom for a quiet reckoning with 'bloodshot eyes […] / Laden with the sacks of seniority'. Like Cohen before him, Moffat is well aware of how effectively a feminine presence and perspective can bolster songs like Cockcrow and Pyjamas with fresh depth. Reeve’s vocal is a beautiful foil throughout the record.
During The Fir Tree, we enter the headspace of a Christmas tree-to-be who converses with gossiping birds and malicious mice: 'Oh to be dressed in silver and gold'. His winter wish comes true, but the dark side of Christmas is soon revealed when his adoptive family turn on him ('He was confused, naked and cold in the dark shed'). Shuddering, bowed guitars accompany a menacing Moffat.
December is a difficult month for many ('The countdown's started / It’s a hollow toll for the heavy hearted') and these songs are likely to resonate with those feeling adrift. How comforting they are, despite the lack of 'wise men and virgins', is an additional triumph. Moffat and Hubbert (tremendous on Desire Path) examine Christmas without pretence and still find much to toast to: proving that Christmas on a comedown can still, miraculously, be Christmas.
Listen to: Such Shall You Be, The Fir Tree, Desire Path