Christmas records from British indie rock frontmen are like buses. You wait ages for one to arrive, and then two come along at once. Released just a week after Ash's Tim Wheeler's festive love-in with girlfriend Emmy the Great, Editors lead singer Tom Smith and former Razorlight drummer Andy Burrows have joined forces on Funny Looking Angels, an effort to "conjure images of friends coming home from the pub and reflective winter evenings." Despite their similar backgrounds, the two records couldn't be more different. While Wheeler's This Is Christmas was a celebratory, feel-good, and mostly original affair, this pair's debut is a covers-heavy listen drenched in the kind of melancholy that Smith's band has become renowned for. His gloom-laden tones are the perfect foil for the mournful reworking of Black's "Wonderful Life," one of three pop classics featured that are more wintry than anything particularly Christmassy, the slow-burning fusion of triumphant strings, chiming sleigh bells, and twinkling music boxes on "This Ain't New Jersey" (one of five original compositions), and the stately rendition of the much-loved carol "In the Bleak Midwinter," while they also fit perfectly with Danish folk singer/songwriter Agnes Obel's hushed vocals on the stripped-back "The Christmas Song" duet. However, counterbalancing the slightly frosty vibes, Burrows, now the lead vocalist in I Am Arrows, also provides the record with some much-needed warmth, whether it's the Badly Drawn Boy-esque indie pop of "As the Snowflakes Fall," the stomping falsetto-led interpretation of "Only You," presumably here due to the Flying Pickets' a cappella Christmas number one than the Yazoo original, or the gorgeously understated retooling of "On and On," previously a minor Britpop hit for Longpigs, now an evocative torch song lent a nostalgic yuletide air thanks to its timeless acoustic/brass arrangement. What could have been a throwaway side project has instead turned out to be a quietly charming and affectionate labor of love that hopefully won't be the last collaboration between the two.
AllMusic Review by Jon O'Brien