THE modern Christmas song is a curious thing.
For every ‘White Christmas’ there are a dozen ‘Mistletoe and Wines’, tunes more naff than a stack of Ryan Tubridy’s ‘hilarious’ seasonal sweaters.
At their worst, not only do these ditties make you hate Dec 25 and all the attendant hoopla – they can cause you to despair for humanity itself. Be honest – what would you give to never again be exposed to Wham!’s ‘Last Christmas’ while at the supermarket? You’d pay hard cash, wouldn’t you?
Happily, the trend in seasonal music has lately been distinctly upmarket, dare we say ‘classy’. Out has gone the pop-corking, tiny pointed party hat hokiness of Slade and Shakin’ Stevens. They been replaced by a little more sophistication.
At shindigs or on radio you are nowadays more likely to be subjected to Michael Bublé pulling out his best Sinatra impersonation on ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas’ rather than, say, Stevens warbling terrifyingly through ‘Merry Christmas Everyone’ for the 10th zillionth time.
You wouldn’t wish to overstate the case – after all, our countdown of essential Christmas records includes a collection of John Travolta/Olivia Newton-John duets. What’s undeniable is that Christmas songs are changing, very possibly for the better.
What To Buy For…an excitable eight-year-old
Light Up The World – Steps
Until Justin Bieber gets around to recording a full Christmas album (so far fans have had to make do with a duet of Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’), it has fallen to reformed UK pop moppets Steps to fill the gap in the tween pop market. Their first record in a dozen years is the musical equivalent of an artificial Christmas tree – it’s sparkly and seasonal but, examined close up, you can tell it was put together on a production line. ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’ is the best known track around which the quintet wrap their tonsils. Other material veers in a surprisingly obscure direction, including Randy Newman’s ‘When She Loved Me’, Phil Spector’s ‘Christmas’ (‘Baby Please Come Home’) and Barry White’s ‘It May Be Winter Outside’.
Fizzy and silly – but difficult to actively dislike.
A Closet Enya Fan
Home For Christmas – Celtic Woman
The globe-straddling Lovely Girls franchise that is Celtic Woman has done its bit to convince vast swathes of America that Irish ladies are uniformly red-haired, alabaster skinned and addicted to shawls. Still, with six million albums, who are we to scoff?
Now the group – meticulously assembled by some of the people behind Riverdance – has made a foray into Christmas music. ‘Home For Christmas’ is an agreeable grab-bag of standards, though for a ‘Celtic’ group they have the strangest propensity for singing, Corrs-style, in quasi-American accents.
That said, it’s difficult to quibble with their choice of material: ‘Auld Lang Syne’, ‘Joy To The World’, ‘Hark The Herald Angels Sing’. These are tunes to warmth cockles of the most inveterate Scrooge.
A Garth Brooks’ loving in-law
On This Winter’s Night – Lady Antebellum
Country music isn’t exactly synonymous with sleigh bells, snow-drifts and jolly fat men distributing gifts to children. However, Nashville mega-group Lady Antebellum have given the Christmas genre their finest shot with On This Winter’s Night. It’s classic Xmas songbook stuff, featuring ‘Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow’, ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’ and ‘Silver Bells’. An excess of slide guitars and twanging singing sometimes shatters the spell – but Lady Antebellum’s hearts are in the right places and , when they need to be schmaltzy, they’re not afraid to get stuck in.
An aging Grease fan
This Christmas – John Travolta/Olivia Newton-John
It’s a long, long time since John Travolta saw the inside of a recording booth.
However, the actor gives a decent account in this unlikely hook up with Newton John, their first collaboration since Grease. The record is a charity affair, with money going to their respective non-profits, the Jett Travolta Foundation and the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre.
As you might expect, the pair take a ‘don’t frighten the horses’ approach. Still, their versions of ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’, ‘Deck The Halls’ and ‘White Christmas’ are classier than you might anticipate.
Rest assured nothing here will put you off your egg-nog and mince pies – apart from the terrifying grin Travolta sports on the sleeve.
The sulky adolescent
A Very Merry Perri Christmas — Christina Perri
No relation to either Christina Aguilera or Katy Perry, Christina Perri’s speciailty is the shade of spiky guitar pop that inevitably plays over a romantic montage on Grey’s Anatomy or One Tree Hill.
She has just released – cease your groaning! – a ‘Very Merry Perri Christmas’, a combination of original compositions, like ‘Something About December’ and covers ‘Happy Xmas’ [War Is Over], and ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’.
The confused soul devotee
Cee Lo’s Magic Moment – Cee Lo Green
You may recall Cee Lo Green’s moment in the spotlight, a 2006 hook-up with producer Danger Mouse on Gnarls Barkley’s mega hit ‘Crazy’. His day job nowadays is judging the US version of The Voice. For this idiosyncratic Christmas album, he ropes in fellow adjudicator Christina Aguilera on an OTT version of ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’. Later, Rod Stewart pops up on ‘Merry Christmas’, and Kermit The Frog duets on ‘All I Need Is Love’. It’s a musical version of eating an entire Christmas trifle in one sitting. Fun at the time — but what an aftertaste!
Your grumpy hipster boyfriend
Silver and Gold – Sufjan Stevens
With Movember over, your hipster friends have had to endure the tragedy of forced separation from their moustaches. Here is something to cheer them up, a five-disc suite of Christmas songs by every edgy urbanite’s go-to dude for beautiful pop. With more than 50 tunes, it’s a bit like reaching into a tin of Christmas sweets. Inevitably there are a few yucky selections. However Stevens’ tilt at ‘Silent Night’ is just lovely.
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