I’m not going to make any attempt to justify liking this weirdly earnest record with its lush production and decidedly old school rhyming pattern because, you know, it’s an absolute Christmas banger.
I mean, yes, clearly, it is also terrible. I think that’s obvious.
But also, you know, total Christmas banger.
Those of us who look for the same artistic standards in our Christmas music and the music we listen to the rest of the year are doomed to be perpetually disappointed. Like Christmas films, Christmas music is supposed to be a bit crap. It is designed to soothe. Fighting will only make it worse. And while I do have some sympathy for those who work in retail and get the same twelve songs played at them in a loop, they should count their lucky stars that they don’t work in a bookmakers. I did for several years and let me tell you, one horse race commentary sounds very much like another. People who work in operating theatres hear human chests being slit open several times a day. There’s always somebody worse off than yourself.
My favourite part of When a Child is Born is the spoken word part in the middle when Mathis starts talking about (and let’s not beat about the bush here) the second coming of Christ. In particular, I like the way he says ‘no one knows’ in such an off-the-cuff, matter-of-fact way. I love it because it makes you thinks two things at the same time, both of which are profound enough to raise you one step further to enlightenment.
- “He’s right. Nobody can say what genetic makeup the next messiah might have.”
- “Why the fuck would you bring that up now though?”
Which isn’t to say there is a time and a place for conversations about race. Whenever and as often as you like, as far as I’m concerned. We still have a long way to go before we have real equality and anything that speeds us toward it is fine by me. It’s more the fact that it comes out of nowhere. And that ‘no one knows’, the way he says it, makes it sound like it was just something that occurred to him in a break in recording the song that they decided to keep in the final cut. It’s as if Mistletoe and Wine had a middle eight where Cliff Richard suddenly notices the ceiling tiles in the studio look like wensleydale and riffed on it for a line or two. But Mathis isn’t talking about wensleydale, he’s talking about the next messiah.
I may be reading too much into what he’s saying.
When a Child is Born is a Fabergé egg of a song, impossibly beautiful and kind of naff. I love it. I really really love it.