Tunes of tinsel, trash, and class: the best (and worst) Christmas albums of 2011
We’ll admit it: we’re having a hard time getting into the Christmas spirit this time around. Don’t get us wrong, though. We’re not starting to hate the very notion of Christmas like, say, Ebenezer Scrooge or the Grinch or Burgermeister Meisterburger or the Kranks or, um, Oliver Cromwell. Maybe it’s because the economy has made our usual yearly descent into unbridled consumerism—not to mention our usual yearly descent into unbridled alcoholism—financially unfeasible. We’ve spent the past 12 months squandering our income on junk like mortgages, car payments, and paying back student loans, so we have nothing left to spend on the true necessities, like rum, eggnog, tinsel, and those little chocolate-covered marshmallow Santas. Fortunately for us, we happen to be professional music critics, which means that music is the one thing we don’t have to pay for. (No one else pays for music anymore, either, but that’s a whole other story.) This year, everyone on our list is getting the promotional CDs we didn’t want to keep. Here’s hoping our buddy Ferg finds some use for a stack of Hercules and Love Affair, Sixx:A.M., Bad Meets Evil, 311, and Beady Eye discs.
In the hope of recapturing some of that holly-jolly feeling we’ve been sorely missing, however, we’ll be keeping all the Christmas stuff for ourselves. We’ve already listened to it all, and sorted it into three piles. Here’s how our rating system works: the good stuff gets a wrapped gift, the so-so stuff gets a pair of tighty-whiteys, and anything slugged with a Charlie Brown tree is awful enough to make the Three Wise Men want to return their gifts to Frankincense “R” Us.
Never mind Christmas—at this point Michael Bublé has the entire world by the sugarplums. The homegrown crooner not only sells out hockey rinks, he’s been known to donate the take at the gate to charity (hello, B.C. Children’s Hospital!). He gets invited to perform on Saturday Night Live as a musical guest, and then acquits himself brilliantly in the show’s skits (witness his fake commercial spot on last Saturday’s Jimmy Fallon–hosted Xmas triumph). And he does as perfect a job as one could hope for on the chart-topping Christmas, a record that suggests everything Bublé touches these days turns to silver and gold, but mostly gold. The Burnaby superstar takes an old-school approach to time-tested classics like “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” and “Silent Night”, both of which are completely drenched in Bing Crosby–vintage strings. Famous for having a wicked sense of humour, Bublé also understands that there’s nothing wrong with getting a little cheeky, with “Blue Christmas” rendered as a Preservation Hall bump ’n’ grind, and a doo-wopped “White Christmas” (featuring Shania Twain) making you wonder who invited the 5 Neat Guys to the party. Hell, the dude not only caps the album off by wishing his fans a very merry Christmas, he sounds like he sincerely means it. And that, friends, is the definition of class, something that, sadly, Santa can’t bring you. You’ve either got it, like Bublé, or you don’t.
> Mike Usinger
Heavenly Christmas (Sony)
It would be nice if she erred a little more on the classical side than on the pop side, but there’s no finding fault with the pure—and, yes, heavenly—voice of 11-year-old Jackie Evancho. But if you see my eyes start to water during her version of Howard Blake’s “Walking in the Air”, it’s just because I’ve been standing too close to the ol’ Yuletide fireplace.
> John Lucas
Whiteout Christmas (Independent)
Now this is what you want—a Christmas disc that makes an effort. Especially on the original tune “My Name Is Blitzen”, a revisionist treatment of that over-hyped attention whore Rudolph, which McAllister treats with a Phil Spectorish Wall of Snow. The same perverse impulse is presumably behind his Daniel Lanois–shaped deconstruction of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”.
> Adrian Mack