ZE Records: A Christmas Record FR CD 
- Lisi: My Silent NightMaterial With Nona Hendryx: It’s A Holiday
- Alan Vega: No More Christmas Blues
- Cristina: Things Fall Apart 
- Miss OD & Gentlemen League: Bells Of Christmas
- The Waitresses: Christmas Wrapping
- Lio, Helena Noguerra + Marie France: Sleigh Ride
- Charlélie Couture: Christmas Fever
- Davitt Sigerson: It’s A Big Country
- August Darnell: Christmas On Riverside Drive
- Material featuring Nona Hendryx: It’s A Holiday
- Was (Not Was): Christmas Time In Motor City
- James White: Christmas With Satan
- Suicide: Hey Lord
<fast forward 31 years>
…So for decades, I was living with the 2nd, US edition of the album, and happily. Sure, I would have bought a UK 1st edition if I had ever seen one, but that wasn’t meant to be. I was aware that ZE reactivated in the new millennium, but my sightings of the product were few and far between. Fortunately, in 2005 I found my copy of the even more crucial 2nd Cristina album at Target [Washington D.C. – R.I.P.] and that was ultimately a bigger prize. I did not hear this version until last week, when ZE dropped the free DL of the enhanced 2004 edition. I say enhanced because it also contained the Three Courgettes track form ver. 1, “Christmastime Is Coming” as a 14th bonus track. Other than that, the 2004 CD contained all tracks on both versions of the earlier LP, making it fairly authoritative. Now, I finally have heard everything associated with the release.
Let’s catch up with the 1981 tracks cut for the 1982 version first. I’d heard of Charlélie Couture before; ronkanefiles is a fan, but this was my first exposure to the group, which sounded like a perverse take on Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler playing a reggae skank line with a giddy Frenchman performing the sprechgesang vocals. Amusing. More crucial was the stunner of a number by Alan Vega that was cut because presumably two Suicide songs meditating on Christmas were over the top. Well, they called themselves Suicide for a reason. While “No More Christmas Blues” was ostensibly an Alan Vega solo recording, it was that in name only. It certainly sounded like Martin Rev on the downbeat, minimal music bed. The lyrics to this one are like a gut punch as Vega tried his best to convince himself that this Christmas wasn’t going to be another bad one… like all the rest. He’ll have a few bucks to spend and could buy his girl a dress and take her out for a change. Just keep believing, pally. This was the bleakest Christmas song I think I’ve ever heard.
The 2004 version of the album contained three new songs, of which “My Silent Night” by Lisi was definitely the best! Lisi [a.k.a. Lisette Linares] managed the impressive achievement of re-writing the music to “Silent Night” and turning it not only into something completely different, but making it a song I might actually enjoy listening to for once! The lurching, rubbery technopop music bed featured a thick sound that was strongly redolent of “Neo Geo” period Ryuichi Sakamoto. Lisi sang and played everything most impressively. It actually makes this into a song you would want to hear at any time.
Miss OD + The Gentlemen League provided an irony-free cover of the Al Jardine [!] co-written “Bells Of Christmas” was sticking out of this program like a sore thumb. As befitted the song’s pedigree, it definitely did not feature the sort of shading and nuance that allowed most of the material here to push the Christmas song envelope. No, this was a straight up celebration of Our Saviour. And Miss OD was far too treacly a vocalist for my tastes. But even that was preferable to the third new track. Now I own several Lio albums and singles. I think she’s great, but the cover of the perennial chestnut “Sleigh Ride” featured the single teamed up with her sister and Marie France. It was strictly by-the-numbers, inane Christmas pap choc-full of forced jollity. Yikes, the music bed on this one sounded like MIDI files in your browser. Yes, that bad.
Fortunately, the CD version only added the three 2004 ringers. And to its credit, the Lisi track was excellent, though all three were at odds with the vintage ZE vibe as defined by the ’81/’82 versions, which stand as canonical with me. They offered unique sounds that reeked of bleak fatalism shot through with audacity and the occasional shaft of hope; a perfect distillation of what Christmas means to me. The ZE sound of their classic era saw much of this music stewed up in a cauldron of muscular disco/funk that perverted the prevailing trends of the late 70s into something much more intriguing. That ZE’s Zilkha and Esteban had the audacity to ask their stable of artists to write a Christmas song proved them to be either blind optimists or far sighted genii. Either way, we all win.
– 30 –