Laudably released for charity, the favourite for this year’s Christmas No 1 leaves no musical cliche untwinkled – and its exhortation to forget the pandemic is crass

Given recent government advice to avoid kissing strangers under the mistletoe this Christmas, there’s a sense in which the long-trailed festive hook-up between Ed Sheeran and Elton John counts as a reckless incitement to anarchy. For his part, Sheeran wants nothing more than a relentless tonguing beneath those poison berries this December: “Kiss me,” he sings; then later, “just keep kissing me!” (To be fair, this noted Wife Guy is unquestionably singing about his wife. Did you know he has a wife? He might have mentioned it.)

In every other respect, however, Merry Christmas – in case the perfunctory title didn’t make clear – is the very exemplar of avoiding unnecessary risk during this perilous season. There are sleigh bells. Church bells. Clattering reindeer hooves. A kids’ choir. Sickly strings. The full selection box, and delivered with about as much imagination as that staple stocking filler. Old friends Sheeran and John encourage us to “pray for December snow”, and the overall effect is a blanketing avalanche of plinky-plonky schmaltz rich in bonhomie and derivative in tune.

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