Future schlock 

The first thing you notice when you meet him is that the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is a lot shorter than you imagined. Even with stiletto heels under his drab gray robes, he’s still about only 5 feet 7 inches above the ground. “It’s amazing what you can do with a little fog and levitation, isn’t it?” he says, laughing as he extends his skeletal hand. “Don’t worry. We’re not going to go flying out the window to some desolate churchyard to ruminate over all your fuckups. Not this year anyway. Haw-haw.”

Ghost (he only uses the long name for business and whenever he wants to impress the ladies with his holdout capabilities) also happens to be the world’s foremost authority on recorded Christmas music. You say “Silver Bells” and he can name every two-bit lounge singer that stunk up a room with it. You mention the Singing Dogs’ “Jingle Bells” and he whips out his iPod (yes, even he has one) and plays you an obscure recording of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” by the Sonoran Javelinas that will tear your heart out. Ghost says, “Whenever I’m on my way to a job, let’s say it’s time to shake up a merchant banker into giving his staff Christmas Eve off, I like to play holiday music to get me in the mood. The more depressing the better. Ever hear Jerry Vale’s Christmas album? It’s brutal. Lots of whimpering, the way I like to hear it.”

With that, we sat down with the Ghost to survey this year’s bumper crop of holiday music. Of course, he’s heard it all before as he divides his time between now and the year 2048, his favorite place to take unrepentant Scrooges. With his 20/20 hindsight, not only can he recommend which holiday albums will be worthy sound tracks for a tree trimming party, but he can also give us some scoops on which 2004 artists and new Christmas carols have a ghost of a chance of getting played in the future.

Various Artists
The O.C.: Have a Very Merry Chrismukkah
Warner Brothers

Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come: (Pressing his hooded temples.) If I remember correctly, things really heated up in the O.C. until the show jumped the shark in 2008. That’s when a cute little kid named Ricky moved in next door and would sing a song at the end of every episode that somehow summarized everyone’s problems. Audiences absolutely hated Ricky, but what could they do? The Cohens already did the “vacation in Hawaii” episode the year before.

Metro Times: That’s too bad. I used to love that show. Hey, here’s an L.A. group called Rooney covering Slade’s “Merry Christmas Everybody.”

Ghost: Can’t compare to the original. But who can fault a band for not wanting to have their testicles stomped on so they can sing more like Noddy Holder?

MT: They kinda sound like Blur. Does Rooney become the next Strokes?

GHOST: (Long pause.) C’mon! (Longer pause.) With that name? They never happen! Just try getting that fat fuck from 60 Minutes outta your mind now that I mentioned him. Can’t be done.

MT: What do you make of Jimmy Eat World doing Wham’s “Last Christmas”? It’s quite poppy, no?

GHOST: For Jimmy to come on sounding like Fleetwood Mac in 2004 was goddamned revolutionary. After this recording, every new emo release is virtually indistinguishable from Tango in the Night. When Christine McVie and Christopher Carrabba had that duet on Dashboard Confessional’s 2005 CD, Oh Daddy, well, that pretty much cemented it. She, she makes emo fun!

MT: Amazing. This Long Winter track, “Christmas With You is the Best,” is about having “a nontraditional, nondenominational celebration.” Will we be hearing more of this sort of anti-carol in the future?

GHOST: A band can’t come out and say, “We hate the holidays” and expect to get played year after year, even if the band sounds like Beck. People who actually like the holidays make Christmas standards. It’s kind of a thing.

The Ghost’s Final Verdict

I give it two sickles! The O.C.’s a solid Christmas mix with no filler. But there are real depressing songs, and don’t complain when it ends 28 minutes into your tree-trimming orgy.

 

Various Artists
Maybe This Christmas Tree
(Nettwerk)

MT: Here’s a charity album, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting Marine Toys for Tots.

GHOST: Too bad the Raveonettes also donated their superb “Christmas Song” to the O.C. album. A lot fewer Marines kids got dollies that year because of our fondness for California TV dramas. But the Raveonettes’ carol lives for generations because it’s short, it’s got a lazy guitar lick that sounds like either Santo or Johnny, and people can’t resist hearing Danes singing, “Santa’s coming to town with a suitcase in his hand.” Makes him sound like Willie Loman.

MT: Also featured prominently is the Polyphonic Spree with a very reverent version of John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas.”

GHOST: Yes, and on the same album there’s an almost half-asleep version of Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” by Tom McRae. Barenaked Ladies also turn in a cheesy instrumental version played on a Kimball organ on their record. You know it killed Paul that he was the most successful songwriter of all time and yet he couldn’t write a better Christmas song than this Back to the Egg reject. Meanwhile John teams up with Yoko and tosses off a holiday classic without even trying. Old Macca went to his grave being defensive about it. Every interview got progressively more and more pathetic. You know, “I was punk, not John.” “I wrote ‘Mull of Kintyre,’ not John.” Poor deluded fool.

The Ghost’s Final Verdict

Four sickles! This album has got some great classics from bands you’re never gonna hear in the future, like Belesana, whose “Bittersweet Eve” corners the slim market for despondent New Year’s Eve songs. And Pilate turns in a nice cry-in-your-beer, Christmas-in-a-New-York-drunk-tank ballad.

 

Chris Isaak
Christmas
Wicked Game/Reprise

Barenaked Ladies
Barenaked for the Holidays
Warner Brothers

GHOST: Here are two cases where the hoses came out after the fire died down.

MT: Isaak’s Showtime comedy was just canceled this year.

GHOST: But he can always release a DVD and jump-start media interest. And he’s got a lot of memorable hits. But what do you do if you’re Barenaked Ladies? Most people can’t remember why these Canadians are famous in the first place! Their holiday album darts back and forth from Christmas to Hanukkah, from jokey to sincere, from cheesy to respectful. Your enjoyment depends on how schizophrenic you swing around the holidays and whether or not you think five grown men singing “I Have a Little Dreidel” is a big hoot.

The Ghost’s Final Verdict

If you need some hipster holiday music, go with Isaak. Lonesome is his stock-in-trade so you’ll have some blue-light specials to ponder. Of course, he does Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Paper” and Elvis’ “Blue Christmas.” Did you even have to look?

 

Dianne Reeves
Christmas Time Is Here
Blue Note

The Ghost’s Final Verdict

Nice, jazzy office-party Christmas album, with Reeves almost scat-singing on “Carol of the Bells.” Probably would’ve done better if it came out a few years earlier. By 2004, Blue Note was sick of being a jazz company and just wanted to push Norah Jones down everyone’s throat. By 2006 it will be virtually impossible to sip a cup of coffee in a public place without hearing Norah Jones. When she wanted to take a few years off recording in 2008, Starbucks panicked and made her a CEO!

 

LeAnn Rimes
What a Wonderful World
Curb

MT: She does Little Miss Dynamite proud with this big band rendering of “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.”

GHOST: Yes, this CD will be a staple in Walgreen’s discount racks for many years. It’s a traditional 20th century holiday album in every way. You’ve got a corny picture of Lee Ann peeping out of a gift box and the usual suspect carols, but Lee Ann almost blows the whole thing with her country constituency with her original “It’s a Different Kind of Christmas.”

MT: Kinda sounds like she wants to come out against the war on terror but is afraid of having her CDs bulldozed.

Ghost: Aww, that never happens, but she actually sings, “No one can protect us anymore!” No wonder she’s not invited to the White House for any lighting ceremonies.

The Ghost’s Final Verdict:

I have a hard time whenever former child stars come on as sexy women, like she does on the shag-me-under-the-tree seduction “Just Love Me.” I feel ashamed of myself, then I travel to the future where LeAnn is the new Depends spokesperson and I feel even more ashamed. Ghosting’s tough, man.

 

Clay Aiken
Merry Christmas with Love
BMG

MT: Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, will the divide ever heal between people who think Aiken’s God’s gift to the pitch pipe and people who retch every time he separates his choppers to sing?

GHOST: I’m afraid not. Things get so bad in 2009 that the Claymates threaten to secede from the union and form their own country, Clayland, if people don’t stop giving their boy such a hard time. What is amazing though is that they actually figure out through SoundScan that the same number of people — 5,674,008 — buy his albums for the next 21 years! It never fluctuates! Claymates actually work it into their wills that when they die, their children will buy Clay Aiken records in lieu of Mass cards. That’s devotion you won’t ever see for the Libertines. Or Maroon 5. Or Triumph the Insult Comic Dog.

The Ghost’s Final Verdict:

Among the revelations in Aiken’s second best-selling inspirational memoir, Selling 5,674,008 Albums Every Time Out, is a tense meeting where he tells Clive Davis, the head of BMG, that he wants to release nothing but holiday albums from now on. He runs out of traditional Christmas music after his seventh consecutive collection. It contains such bottom of the barrel selections as “Tears are not Enough,” which isn’t even a Christmas song, and “Wonderful Christmastime.” Aiken later admits, “This song sucks. Even for me.”

Serene Dominic is a freelance writer. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com

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