25 декабря

New Christmas Albums, Reviewed

25 декабря 2018, 18:57,

More than 600 holiday songs came out in 2018: Here’s a guide to the good covers, the bad art and the utterly unlistenable.
It’s that time of year again where we put aside our differences and agree that there are too many new Christmas albums. The yearly jingle bell-bottleneck is a modern pop music phenomenon. Whether artists are propelled by morality, money or Mariah Carey, we just want to know: is anything in the 2018 slush pile worthy of the Christmas canon? Rolling Stone enlisted comedian, actor and Secular Xmas enthusiast Connor Ratliff to find out. He furnished an exhaustive — yet merry! – holiday guide after listening to more than 50 new Christmas albums (that’s over 600 songs) taking into consideration album art, originality and deducting for title-track overuse. Let’s begin.
John Legend: ‘A Legendary Christmas’
TITLE: Wordplay! Good! It has a unique meaning specific to this record. If anyone else used this title, it would be dumb.
COVER ART: Crisp and clean, iconic. It’s a picture of John’s face, he has a wry smile and is wearing a Santa hat. You really couldn’t ask for anything better than this.
LISTENING: Stevie Wonder plays harmonica on the opening track, and I am on board. Second track features horns and strings and backing singers. Legend played Jesus Christ on live TV last Easter and even though I am Team Secular XMAS all the way and have no use for Religious Christmas, what Legend is delivering is both sincere and fun.
VERDICT: Stream it! Add it to your holiday playlists, it’ll mix in nicely.
Martina McBride: ‘It’s The Holiday Season’
TITLE: This feels aggressively to-the-point, as if it is answering the question, “why did you make this album?” with the implied subtitle “(and these things sell like hotcakes).” I would like this title more if it had a period at the end of it and it was all depressing songs sung by Stephen Merritt: “It’s The Holiday Season.”

COVER ART: It’s fine! It doesn’t quite look “vintage” but instead looks like someone very quickly going for a vintage vibe using a decent computer on a tight deadline.

LISTENING: She sounds good, and the music sounds good. What do you want me to say? It’s basic. No risks taken, but if you like classic Christmas music, this can slot harmlessly into the mix. However, if this album suddenly vanished from your collection, you would not spend time trying to find it. I don’t mean this as an insult! She’s good. But there are a million Christmas albums and the is simply another one. If all the others vanished, this would be a treasure to cherish, but we’re not there yet.
Eric Clapton: ‘Happy XMAS’
TITLE: I love it. As someone who celebrates Secular Christmas instead of “Religious Christmas,” I am always on board for the four-letter-word that designates it as the holiday of Santa and Frosty and not the one with the horrible innkeeper and King Herod slaughtering all those children.

COVER ART: Fun! A terrible drawing of Santa and the title is scrawled. It is signed by “E.C.” which to me means “Elvis Costello.” Yes, yes, Clapton predates Costello, whose real initials are “D.M.” anyway, but let’s not fight. Eric also scratches down three X’s to indicate kisses, to us, the listeners, which is a good amount of kisses. This is the least seriously anyone has ever taken the cover art to an album, and I think that’s kind of great.

LISTENING: The album is bluesy, it sounds exactly like what I thought it would, at least to begin. I skip ahead to the one Clapton original — it’s fine, but not for me. I’m bored. I skip to “Jingle Bells (In Memory Of Avicii”) and it is six minutes of EDM insanity that seems like it crash landed from some other record and barely even hints at being “Jingle Bells.” I would add this track to a holiday party Spotify list for shits & giggles, assuming it was an insanely long playlist, too long for the party. The rest of the album would be fine to play at a Barnes & Noble while its upper management runs that company into the ground for what could be its final holiday season. I was gonna say this is for dads but times have changed and this is for grandfathers now. Give this to the Baby Boomer guys in your life who like this kind of thing.

VERDICT: It’s not for me. But I will add “Jingle Bells (In Memory Of Avicii)” to my personal Spotify holiday playlist because it is bonkers.

I scan down the track listing to see if there are any potential curveballs — there aren’t! I am moving on.

VERDICT: If you hear this playing in a coffee shop or a shopping mall, it will feel nice but you also might not even notice it or ask anyone “who is this?”
Jesse J: ‘This Christmas Day’
TITLE: I’m not a big fan of title tracks, and that’s a common thing for these albums. I feel like it’s lazy. You made a record, give it a distinctive name! Think up a title. If this was called “Jingle Bingle Blammo!” that would be a terribly unsuitable title but at least it would feel like someone spent a few minutes cooking something up.

COVER ART: Classy! They gave her a giant red bow to hold over her head and her expression is dead serious, but in a way that says “I’m not serious, this is playful.”

LISTENING: Jazzy and professional. I’m sure there are a great many differences between this and the McBride album but my mind is already blurring them together, I cannot help it. The first track contains a part where she laughs and at the end she casually laughs again and says “Merry Christmas.” I mean, it’s fine. It’s not for me. You’ll know almost instantly if this is for you or not. I wouldn’t be unhappy if someone put this on in the background at a holiday party but also there is an aspect to a record like this that feels like it is exactly what people hate about Christmas music— the same 10 songs being modernized by 20 new artists every year, in more or less the same way.

VERDICT: Another one for the coffee shop or shopping mall.
Serena Ryder: ‘Christmas Kisses’
TITLE: Another title track! I would like it so much more if they pulled the title from deeper within the lyrics. Why couldn’t this be called “Kisses For Christmas” instead? (This is a pet peeve, admittedly.)

COVER ART: Unlike Eric Clapton, Ryder gives us no X’s for kisses on the cover, so I’m immediately taking points off, since an album called “Christmas Kisses” should have at least a few of them. To be fair, she had no idea that Clapton would set this new expectation of writing down kisses on the cover art, but if/when there is a deluxe reissue, I expect this to be remedied.

LISTENING: The opening track is pleasant and fine but track two is an original and I like it a lot. She rhymes “rainbow dolphin” with “Mary Poppins” and I am SOLD. The rest of the tracks are familiar and I only listened to a snippet of each one but it is understated and sounds sincere as heck. I put this into the KEEPER pile, based on the original alone with added points for sounding like she really wanted to make this record. I’m not questioning the sincerity of everyone else, but it’s not enough to mean it, you have to really SOUND like you mean it.

VERDICT: Stream it! Add the title track to your Christmas playlist.
© Rolling Stones
Image courtesy Rolling Stone

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