Pianist Chilly Gonzales has admitted shock at the quality of Wham! and Mariah Carey’s Christmas standards, after stripping them down to an “atomic level” for his first festive album.
The Grammy-winning Canadian musician, real name Jason Beck, recorded versions of Last Christmas and All I Want For Christmas Is You for the minor key, instrumental outing.
Titled A Very Chilly Christmas, the record features carols and classic Christmas songs, including In The Bleak Midwinter and Jingle Bells, as well as regular collaborators Feist and Jarvis Cocker.
The 48-year-old told the PA news agency he removed the “cheap synthesisers” and “fuzzy sweaters” to reveal what he considers “two incontestable modern-day Christmas standards”.
He said: “Certainly with the pop standards, George Michael and Mariah Carey are not folk songs. They decidedly are from an individualist point of view.
“It is all ‘I’ want for Christmas and last Christmas ‘I’ gave you my heart. So my challenge with those songs was to almost turn them into folk songs and try to remove the ‘I’ from them.
“(I wanted to) play them in such a straightforward way that you hear that right-hand melody, that left-hand accompaniment, and you might say, ‘Wow, what a beautiful song’, because it is finally divorced from its associations – its cheap synthesisers, drums machines, fuzzy sweaters in the video that you picture when you think of Last Christmas.
“But if you remove all of that, the piano has that power to reduce everything.
“It brings all music down to an atomic level, devoid of references, and references make the glory and the poison of so much music and nostalgia.
“I was surprised by how well constructed both pieces of music are. It made me realise why they have stood the test of time as new Christmas standards.”
Gonzales, who grew up in a Jewish family, said the “capitalist ideal” of Christmas had always left him “a little bit wanting” but that he had found enjoyment through festive music.
He added: “I made the album now because I got sick of not finding the right music over the last few years, to be honest, and feeling like we have lost touch with the power of what Christmas music can do at its best.
“Now all we get is cynical cash-ins from big-name entertainers, but that music leaves me wanting as well.
“So I figured I would try to reappropriate that music, take it away from the adverts and the cynical cash-ins and try and do something more intimate and playful.”
Speaking in November, he said: “I did finish it in 2019 but I think we are going to learn how to celebrate Christmas differently this year and so why not learn to listen to the Christmas music differently as well?
“I think my timing might be just right, actually.”
Gonzales said friends had been shocked by his decision to record a Christmas album but he had pressed ahead because he wanted to write music for people who find “the whole idea imposed”.
He added: “I hope I can offer that antidote and part of that is putting some of the melancholy back into it, but also the hope. I think people want sad music to give them hope.”
A Very Chilly Christmas by Chilly Gonzales is out now.