Christmas Kryptonite

Each year, many critics ritualistically wrap up that season’s Christmas music. That it’s become a chore to do so in 2005 isn’t because of the serious dip in quality holiday fare. Quite the reverse — it’s 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 Baker’s Christmas Fantasy; Diana Krall’s Christmas Songs... . I don’t even have to slit the shrink-wrap with my good fingernail to know what I’m getting into — smooth jazz with a touch of class, maybe a glockenspiel somewhere. Surely nothing as ghastly as Flatulina’s 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-Xtina’s Xmas outing, where Christina Aguilera’s 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, Aguilera’s not the person you want to be making the call to 911.

What else do we have this year? Brian Wilson’s 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 he’s practically Santa Claus for finally finishing Smile and delivering us from Mike Love. Then there’s the unlikely Reverend Horton Heat’s We Three Kings, which rocks harder than anything since The Ventures Christmas Album. And what bad things can you say about that? Reverend’s 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 where’s this year’s (William) Hung for the Holidays? Why aren’t Desperate Housewives and the cast of Lost cashing in on their TV popularity with a yuletide yowl like Bonanza’s misguided Christmas on the Ponderosa? Where are celebrity blowhards like Rosie O’Donnell, who could con everyone from Elton to Elmo into duets on her ghastly charity albums? Santa, baby, I’ve got nothing to work with this year!

I’m thinking back to Christmas albums that bypassed the “bah humbug” feeling and went straight to “please kill me,” like Kenny & Dolly’s Once Upon a Christmas. I watched as this album cleared a whole floor of bustling Bloomingdale’s shoppers when it played in-store back in 1982.

I know it doesn’t 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 she’s 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 DP’s 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 wouldn’t live up to my horrific expectations. Now that I’ve broken down and actually bought a copy, I can’t find anything that would cause a shopper stampede at Bloomingdale’s — not David Foster’s bland digital keyboards, not the children’s choir ... what gives?

It can’t be maturity. Maybe there was some sort of bomb scare in the store I didn’t know about? I’m inclined to think that back when turntables and tape decks ran at variable speeds, Dolly’s 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 don’t know, happy.

Maybe I should’ve left this sleeping giant to rest, because not having a worst Christmas record is like learning there’s 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 isn’t so bad, even though it starts out by ruining “Happy Xmas,” complete with Dubya sound bites. You’d expect thrash punks, screamos and emos to not have uplifting things to say about the holidays, and that’s 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 World’s “Blue and Gold.” Screamed so earnestly by Mike Davenport (and you know he means every word, because there’s an acoustic guitar and a string quartet sawing away in the background), it’s 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 we’re all really bad ...

Serene Dominic is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]
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