Each year, many critics ritualistically wrap up that seasons Christmas music. That its become a chore to do so in 2005 isnt because of the serious dip in quality holiday fare. Quite the reverse its because Christmas music has gotten too acceptable and objection-free for its own good.
Look at this batch of more-than-tolerable 2005 offerings Anita Bakers Christmas Fantasy; Diana Kralls Christmas Songs... . I dont even have to slit the shrink-wrap with my good fingernail to know what Im getting into smooth jazz with a touch of class, maybe a glockenspiel somewhere. Surely nothing as ghastly as Flatulinas Fabulous Holiday Spectacular (which should been called How Great Thou Fart for the full blasphemous effect). Or as doggone annoying as The Jingle Cats Meowy Christmas. Or as contemptible as ex-Xtinas Xmas outing, where Christina Aguileras unnecessary vowel stretching and meaningless R&B hiccups make octosyllables out of snow, sleigh and joy. If Grandma ever does get run over by a reindeer, Aguileras not the person you want to be making the call to 911.
What else do we have this year? Brian Wilsons What I Really Want for Christmas, which is getting raves. But really, do you think Brian Wilson will ever suffer a bad review again? Nor should he, since hes practically Santa Claus for finally finishing Smile and delivering us from Mike Love. Then theres the unlikely Reverend Horton Heats We Three Kings, which rocks harder than anything since The Ventures Christmas Album. And what bad things can you say about that? Reverends got no indie cred for crooning Silver Bells?
This year I can even get into some of these Verve Christmas Remixed science projects, which resurrect such dead legends as Mel Torme, Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Williams, using hip-hop beats as the smelling salts. Maybe I just like the creepy blare of Bing Crosby singing through a tin horn, taking time out from his eternity in Hades to wish you and yours a happy holiday.
But wheres this years (William) Hung for the Holidays? Why arent Desperate Housewives and the cast of Lost cashing in on their TV popularity with a yuletide yowl like Bonanzas misguided Christmas on the Ponderosa? Where are celebrity blowhards like Rosie ODonnell, who could con everyone from Elton to Elmo into duets on her ghastly charity albums? Santa, baby, Ive got nothing to work with this year!
Im thinking back to Christmas albums that bypassed the bah humbug feeling and went straight to please kill me, like Kenny & Dollys Once Upon a Christmas. I watched as this album cleared a whole floor of bustling Bloomingdales shoppers when it played in-store back in 1982.
I know it doesnt seem possible that these two life-sized Hummels dressed like Mr. and Mrs. Claus could be the disseminators of such noxious noel napalm. You have Kenny Rogers, star of stage, screen and rotisseries, years before his dial M for masturbation scandal and all those insipid Gambler movies hewn from rejected Quantum Leap scripts. (The last one I saw, Kenny somehow thwarted the Lincoln assassination, freed all the slaves, and sucked face with Marilu Henner before the sponsors were satisfied.) And Dolly? Why shes sweetness incarnate, beloved by the public in a way Kathie Lee only imagined she was. Plus, factor in that these two country juggernauts (Kenny and Dolly, not DPs massive hooters, ya perv) were coming off just a huge number one hit, Islands in the Stream.
For years I avoided Once Upon a Christmas like rat poison in the cellar, possibly for fear it wouldnt live up to my horrific expectations. Now that Ive broken down and actually bought a copy, I cant find anything that would cause a shopper stampede at Bloomingdales not David Fosters bland digital keyboards, not the childrens choir ... what gives?
It cant be maturity. Maybe there was some sort of bomb scare in the store I didnt know about? Im inclined to think that back when turntables and tape decks ran at variable speeds, Dollys high helium quaver so pleasing in I Will Always Love You, Love is Like a Butterfly and Jolene was allowed to whirr at a head-splitting velocity, as if she ate Alvin, Simon, Theodore, Chip and Dale to absorb all their chipmunk cheerfulness. Groggy-voiced Kenny, who always croons as if he could use a couple of Anacin, probably just sounded, I dont know, happy.
Maybe I shouldve left this sleeping giant to rest, because not having a worst Christmas record is like learning theres no fake Santa Claus that burps in your face at Sears when you sit on his lap.
Then A Taste of Christmas came in the mail.
As various artists Christmas comps go, this one isnt so bad, even though it starts out by ruining Happy Xmas, complete with Dubya sound bites. Youd expect thrash punks, screamos and emos to not have uplifting things to say about the holidays, and thats fine. Hell, I think most people just see the word Christmas in blood-red letters and expect the worst.
Unless you get to unlucky Track 13, and hear the room-clearing potential of metal-bubblegummists Versus the Worlds Blue and Gold. Screamed so earnestly by Mike Davenport (and you know he means every word, because theres an acoustic guitar and a string quartet sawing away in the background), its about a guy wishing he could take a dirt nap under the snow with his dead girlfriend. I have a feeling some blubbering teenager somewhere is taking this heavy chorus (Your cold blue lips/ They haunt me while I sleep/ They find me and remind me) even more seriously than Davenport is. And frankly, it makes me sick. Sick and satisfied.
Then I know all is right with Christmas until something worse comes along.
But only if were all really bad ...Serene Dominic is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]