Third outing for a song that has shifted from the status of freshly minted to old warhorse before my very eyes, 'Do They Know It's Christmas' is the James Bond or Dr Who of the charts; the thematic core remains constant while the 'actors' playing the part of the central character(s) change. And just like on its last outing in 1989, it's interesting to compare the shifting pop landscapes that each incarnation documents. For Band Aid 20, only Bono, Paul McCartney and George Michael remain from the original 1984 line-up, but while it might have been easy to stuff the rest of the ranks with various Pop Idol winners and rejects, to it's credit Band Aid 20 is not so lazy as that and does manage to harness some of the bigger names from contemporary popular music.
So all good then? Well maybe not - Band Aid 20 offers up (initially at least) a more sombre take on the song than old with Chris Martin delivering the opening "It's Christmas time, there's no need to be afraid" with the tremulous quiver of a man who sounds very afraid indeed. Maybe like me he's seen the evolution of the song from one off charity single to its current status of something akin to national treasure (Martin would have been seven when the original came out) and so maybe his respect is of one wariness of upsetting any apple carts. But by treating what is essentially a fairly rotten piece of musical functionality with the reverence of a hymn, the effect is one of a mock religiosity that banishes light and lets in shade in a way that's cloying in its over earnestness.
Not that Martin is the only culprit in getting it wrong here - Dido, Ms Dynamite, Robbie Williams, Joss Stone, Beverly Knight and both Bedingfields et al line up to deliver their vocals in a roughly stitched together, all over the place patchwork of moods and styles that bounce off each other with the grace of raw eggs bouncing off a brick wall. By the time Dizzee Rascal pops up for a rap, the whole has tipped over the edge of taste into a barely listenable mess of awkwardness where even the singalong run-out is the grudging joviality of otherwise barely speaking relatives forced together to play after Christmas dinner parlour games once a year. And while it is refreshing to hear more female voices than of old, it takes Bono and his knowing milking of the "Tonight thank God it's them instead of you" line to generate any spark of interest. How ironic.
In fairness, nobody buys Band Aid singles for the quality of the performances, and this isn't a 'remake' out to 'improve' on what's gone before. Does that mean that Band Aid is just a semi-regular exercise/opportunity for the rich and famous to 'do their bit' in public safe in the knowledge that sales will follow regardless, or am I being too cynical? And does it even matter? Well, I have certain views on all that, but I'd be going over my remit to delve into them too deeply here. So suffice it to say that it may be that my snippy comments say more about me than they do of the song beneath. The simple fact is I can remember the news item introducing the first (i.e. 'MY') Band Aid single as if it were only broadcast yesterday, and every time the bells on the introduction start chiming I expect to hear Paul Young and Boy George lead me into the song in the same way I expect to see Roger Moore as James Bond or Tom Baker as Dr Who. And when they don't, I feel a certain twinge of angst and regret over something that has past and the passing years that have taken it out of my reach. Years of a number I don't particularly care to be reminded of. So before I start filling up, I'll just raise a glass to Band Aid, Band Aid 2 and Band Aid 20, pat them on the back for the good work they do and thank God it's them at number one instead of Cliff Richard.