Let Down For John Lewis

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Pumpkins begin to wither and mould, skeletons are packed away, and children begin preparing their Christmas lists. As the evenings become darker, households across the UK snuggle up to watch their yearly serving of stylised consumer programming. Twitter is awash with debate; articles detail the outrage that ensues. The cause? The new John Lewis Christmas advert.

The much-anticipated advert has become a set piece of the holiday season, ringing in the surge in shopping that Christmas brings with it. Over the coming weeks the video will be beamed onto the television sets of millions while receiving wall to wall social media coverage. The characters in the advert will be burned into the collective memory of British society, all to remind us of the fact that buying presents for people that you love is nice. Who would’ve thought it?

Never before has John Lewis had so much at stake with their annual pop culture contribution. Having closed eight stores earlier this year following Covid-induced losses, the firm is desperate to see a return to form. Eager to hit pre-pandemic heights, the underlying message of the advert remains the same: give us your money. The advert is a sales dream. The company have already reached a point where they can sell an advert, an achievement which had previously only been accomplished by Sergei and Co. of Compare The Market fame. Merchandise depicting the John Lewis characters’ faces will yet again be stocked, with reusable bags and plush toys sent to the nation’s stockings.

In an effort to get the ball rolling earlier on sales, the good people of the John Lewis marketing team have been so kind as to gift us the advert a whole fortnight earlier than its usual release. Talk about Christmas coming early. The chief complaint however is not the wishy-washy feel-good vibe of the production, nor its choke hold on television ad breaks. The real issue is the music.

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Over the years the John Lewis advert team have curated a playlist of dreadfully overproduced cover versions, all of which manage to slaughter any semblance of what made the original track a cult classic. Year on year John Lewis stick to their tried and tested formula of reverbed piano and isolated vocals. Music that gives you the sense that a corporate team were calling the shots in the studio, rather than the artist.

Frankly this is music for people who want their emotions handed to them. This is, after all the advert that received complaints in 2017 when Biffy Clyro’s equally dreadful rendition of ‘Golden Slumbers’ didn’t make people cry. God bless the poor souls who didn’t receive their Christmas gifts; gold, frankincense, and consumerist tears- that’s the Christmas we know and love.

This year’s offering, a Lola Young cover of The Human League’s Together In Electric Dreams fits the John Lewis mould to the letter.
Beginning with an echoing piano part that struggles along amid the stripped back track, it is obvious from the first chord where this track is headed. We then get layered fragile vocals, so delicate and reflective it seems put on, with sections of faltering pitch to boot. Behind this sits descant-esque backing vocals which make up the most musically creative part of a thoroughly boring track. Most of the heavy lifting soundwise is done by the effects that create echo and make the vocals seem so intimate. There is very little going on beyond the studio editing.

Towards the end there is an instrumental section complete with swirling strings to signify what should be a rousing finish but ends up being more of the same weak chorus part. Moreover- and I concede this is more a criticism of The Human League- this is a song that goes nowhere, repeating the same four lines over and over till close.
When played over the advert the lyrics leave very little to interpretation, making obvious hints at thoughts of friendship. The visuals only make the song seem simpler and childish.

It seems that John Lewis have taken on The X Factor’s former mantle of acting as the go-to launchpad for the twenty-first century’s next flat pack pop star. This is music for the chart-obsessed, who fancy getting out of their comfort zone around the holiday period by thinking that a budding artist hand-picked by a corporate superstore counts as underground. Yet again John Lewis have met their target of producing a stylised cover that will be tolerated for the festive period before sinking into the depths of Christmas playlist mediocrity.

The result is yet another bland, pseudo-emotional track that strives to be both melancholy and uplifting but fails to be either. Any whiff of emotion induced by the song, or even the advert, is whisked away the moment the screen turns black as your mind turns to thoughts of what you might buy this year. Capitalism breeds innovation they say. If predictable, swirling pop covers count as innovation, I’d rather take the stone age.

Photo via: Wikimedia Commons