I've never been fond of the all-star charity ballad "Do They Know It's Christmas" -- it's always seemed very soppy and self-righteous.
So it was with glee that I picked up "Do They Know It's Halloween," a wildly tongue-in-cheek parody with an all-star cast of indie-rockers... and a few others too (Elvira anyone?). Rather than sounding like a mishmash, it sounds like a carol sung by the Addams Family -- weird, wonky and riotously funny.
It opens with Beck and Karen O, crooning, "Once a year on a spooky night/it's Halloween... and what a fright!", followed by Win and Regina of Arcade Fire, "Young boys and ghouls... in ghoulish disguise/they cover their skin, conceal their eyes." That kicks off a new-wavy little indie-rock tune, full of ghosts, ghouls, dark humor, trick-or-treating, and death by bobbing for apples.
There's also a brief interlude where David Cross assumes that it's all a joke... and as the horrified shrieks continue, he starts wailing, "Come out please! It's not funny anymore... OH MY GOD IN HEAVEN!"
It's followed up by a trio of reinvented or remixed versions. There's the radio edit, which basically has the middle part of it missing, followed by the "Disco D" remix, which is basically the same tune with scattered "Help us! It's too late...," hysterical pleas and ghoulish gloating. Finally there's "Th' Corn Gangg Remix," a creepy reworking with a dark, urgent sound.
How can you go wrong with a vocal cast like this? Beck, Karen O, Wolf Parade, Arcade Fire, Sonic Youth, Postal Service, pop wunderkinds Smoosh, Feist, Rilo Kiley, Devendra Banhart and Peaches, with Elvira and Nardwuar as some non-singing extras. And it doesn't go wrong. Though each singer gets only a line or two before it switches to someone else, the vocals switch smoothly from person to person.
Among the highlights are Beck's faux-serious crooning, Peaches and Feist's creepy vocals, and that little freak-out interlude with David Cross. It's also written with macabre humor and a few subtle jibes at Geldof and Co. "Drowning in a bucket of apples bobbing/parents are hiding, babies are sobbing," goes one line, as well as "The writing's on the tombstone under the willow tree" -- what, did you expect a wall?
If Tim Burton ever made an indie-rock song, it would probably sound like "Do They Know It's Halloween," a bizarre and funny all-star parody. Thoroughly entertaining.