Album Review: Furnace and the Fundamentals – A Very Furnace Christmas

[Bird's Robe; 2021]

Christmas is a lot of things and to everyone it’s different. Some focus on the gathering of family, others primarily on the eating of seasonal food and drink, and there are even those who just like to buy and receive presents. It can be melancholic, sure, especially as you get older and/or start reckoning with the materialistic nature and commercialisation of the whole holiday season. But, going back to its roots, isn’t the whole thing meant to be about joy? Should Christmas not be about having a good time, in whatever way you see fit? Eat loads of mince pies, watch cheesy Christmas movies, or go out caroling in the snow. It’s “joy to the world” after all, not “destroy to the world.”

Furnace and the Fundamentals understand this. If not, they definitely believe it. The Australian band have been described as “humanity’s most exhilarating dance party” and they seem to exist primarily to make you have a great fucking time during the festive season. Their main weapon? A collection of popular songs reimagined with alternate lyrics to fit in with / offer an alternative from all your “Here Comes Santa Claus” and “Santa Baby”s.

Originally released in 2019 but now enjoying a worldwide physical release (complete with a few extra tracks), Furnace and the Fundamentals’ all too simply and fittingly titled A Very Furnace Christmas album is the band’s attempt to alleviate any Christmas woes and dread. A bright, flashy, and earnest blast of festive cheer through songs you already know, the album may be sickly, tacky and all too seasonal, but is still a lot of fun.

If there’s a popular song from the past 50 or so years, then Furnace and the Fundamentals are on it, rewriting it and adding a hearty dose of sleigh bells to make it acceptable to play on December 25th. “YMCA”? It now comes complete with the ding dong of church bells, even though the message at the heart of the song (“There’s no need to be unhappy”) remains the same. Paul Simon’s “Call Me Al” is now a full on party banger, horns blazing and readying crowds for a conga line; “You can call him Santa / ‘Cause Santa is the king of the impossible,” lead singer Furnace declares with a boundless dose of enthusiasm. Even Coldplay’s “Yellow” gets thrown into the mix, albeit as a prelude to the aforementioned song, but now an anthemic ballad about believing in (you guessed it) Santa.

This is the nature of the beast here. Furnace and the Fundamentals are the guys who not only replied to those ‘replace the word in a song title with “Christmas”‘ tweets, but also went and wrote the actual songs. The templates are set, all they have to do is set glee and joy to 11 for it to hit as intended.

Sometimes it’s a little tedious, and the six-piece seem to have chosen party rousing songs to shoehorn Christmas words into (“Shout”, “Just Can’t Get Enough”). Most of the tracks here feel like festive punchlines that don’t so much seek to amuse as they do to entertain in the most simple way. ‘Hey, they’re singing about Christmas!’, they seem to wish to elicit from listeners in a Ryan George-like manner. After a couple of tracks the jig is very obviously up, so the surprise is gone like a fart through hemp pajamas – but that doesn’t stop the band’s boundless aim to please

Are Furnace and the Fundamentals a glorified karaoke band, then? It’s easy to make the case. But what’s simpler (and nicer) is to say that they are a party band. The kind you would find in a pub or club, and if you were surrounded by revelers and your festive spirit was low (or high, I guess), then they would likely get a smile plastered on your face by the end of the night. It’s infectious, and even though it would be great to see some original work from the band (as they are obviously talented players), they do have moments of ingenuity on A Very Furnace Christmas. Merging a band roll-calling “Carol of the Bells” seamlessly into “Gangsta’s Paradise (“Been spending most our lives / waiting for December 25”) is something of a masterstroke. “Giving In The Name Of” (Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing In The Name Of”, as you likely suspected) is goofy and obvious, but stupid fun, much like the hammy “Reindeer”, a take on Ginuwine’s “Pony” complete with “Careless Whisper” solo because of course.

Look, I don’t want to be a Scrooge about this album. It’s fun, right? You’ll probably only play it a couple of times during one short period of the year, only perhaps as a relief from the old familiar songs, or for the sheer novelty of hearing a festive take on “The Longest Time” or “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life”. And that’s what you have to give Furnace and the Fundamentals kudos for: they’re trying to make all the traditional carols and songs that bit more bearable with some variation. When they do do a take on one of the classics, it’s mostly just as a passing regard to them; “Jingle Bells” is hurried through for what feels like both fun and a desire to hasten by an obligatory pit stop, while their perfectly acceptable vocal arrangement of “Silent Night” is nothing more than a prelude to “You Shook Me All Night Long”.

Similarly, the band didn’t need to make “Bohemian Rhapsody (Christmas Version)” it’s own 48 second track when it’s just an amusing stop point in their recasting of the annoyingly infectious “Sweet Caroline” (“It’s Christmas time BA BA BA” – there, it’s in your head now too). Nor did they really need to make a yuletide version of “Shout”. But they did, because for a brief moment – whether you’re hearing it on record or at one of thier live shows – it brings a stupid bit of joy into the world. After all, that’s been the ethos of Christmas for so long, and while we all might have our own personal attitude to this festive season, Furnace and the Fundamentals – with Christmas jumpers, costumes, and sugary covers of classics at hand – intend to adhere to this advice. Joy to the world, and then some.