Miniature super group (well, duo) do a Christmas album - quite frankly this could potentially be an absolute career nose dive but for Smith & Burrows, this is pretty much the opposite; a real gem. Editors' Tom Smith and ex-Razorlight and We Are Scientists musician Andy Burrows' festive themed album that track lists originals alongside covers, grew out of a couple of collaborative cover versions as the first time Smith has collaborated with anyone other than his own band.
Funny Looking Angels opens with a very slow and atmospheric version of the first verse of the carol 'In The Bleak Midwinter' over a pedal organ note which builds itself into an epic conclusion with Coldplay-esque layers of orchestration including of course a chiming festive glockenspiel. The single 'When The Thames Froze' opens with an echoing piano accompaniment to Tom Smith's distinctive low, icy, cold and lonely vocals. The tracks' accompaniment then builds with layers of Salvation Army Band-esque brass and swooping strings underpinned by a military snare to push into a moving and hopeful, powerful chorused vocal chorus. The dominance of the piano continues through 'As The Snowflakes Fall', this time beneath Burrows' Badly Drawn Boy-like meandering folky vocals throughout this atmospheric down-tempo ballad that's ridden with layers of vocal harmony.
'Funny Looking Angels' follows again quite down-tempo and spacey, underpinned by subtle rhythmic baritone sax, cleverly nodding perhaps to 'I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day' and indeed the complete alter ego of Christmas music (cheese!). Layers of guitars and mandolin lilt effortlessly beneath conversation vocals shared between Smith and Burrows. During Smith & Burrows' cover of Black's 'Wonderful Life', echoing drums and acoustic guitar sound beneath Tom Smith's vocal which cuts its melody over the top; again the track builds layer by layer including Burrows' backing vocals, in a Snow Patrol-like somehow determined sensitivity which oozes a wonderfully rich cello line. Led by Burrows' higher, whispered vocal over a well-constructed atmospheric backing, the duos' cover of Yazoo's 'Only You' has that Coldplay, Editors kind of feel that has again banished cheesiness in a tasteful indie cover version.
Later, following 'Rosslyn', a lilting piano-led 6/8 ballad instrumental accompanied by lush rich string backings, 'This Ain't New Jersey' sounds sparkling glockenspiel and piano melody over a warming solo cello line which is then joined by Tom Smith's vocal. The lyrics, like the album, hold a real honesty and avoid cliché's and the track starts quite bare but builds into a powerful and moving blend laden with soaring strings and chiming tubular bells. Funny Looking Angels concludes with a gorgeous version of 'The Christmas Song' which contrasts Danish singer-songwriter Agnes Obel's delicate, warm and smooth vocals with Tom Smith's cold, harsh vocals over a simple piano accompaniment; divine.
Funny Looking Angels has a sad and lonely, melancholy feeling running throughout but is at the same time comforting and warm in its honesty; Smith & Burrows cleverly take the cheesiness and cliché away from overdone Christmas music and replace it with honesty and sensitivity with their receptive blend.