In addition to Black Friday-through-Cyber-Monday deals, claymation TV specials, and frequent cookie-swapping get-togethers, 'tis the season for nonstop holiday music. It's a big, booming business, and every artist that can stuff a stocking seems to put out a collection of seasonal songs around now. Some of these are charming; some are quickie affairs designed to make tweens part with their cash.
Ever since I was skewered for saying less-than-flattering things about a certain American Idol contestant, I’ve learned it’s dangerous to interject my own opinions about holiday music. But I just can’t help myself. (C’mon Bieber—at least wear a Santa hat on the album cover!) Here is a selection of this year’s bumper crop of holiday albums.
A Very She & Him Christmas by She & Him
Zooey Deschanel is having a moment, with her sitcom, New Girl, being one of the most successful launches of the fall television season. She & Him, her music project with M. Ward, is retro-inspired even in non-holiday times, which makes them the perfect band to take on classics like “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” and “The Christmas Waltz.” (And then there are nice tries, like “Little Saint Nick.”) I’d say this is the one to buy this holiday season. Take a listen—here they are performing "Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree" on The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
Christmas by Michael Bublé
I confess: Everything I know about Michael Bublé, I know from his appearance on the Jon Hamm-hosted episode of Saturday Night Live (which, granted, was hilarious). Therefore, I can’t venture a guess as to how sincere his Christmas album is. He does get the Puppini sisters, Shania Twain, and Thalia to do some guest vocals for him (the last on “Mis Deseos/Feliz Navidad,” one of my favorites), so he seems to be at least somewhat adept at getting people into the Christmas spirit.
The Classic Christmas Album by Tony Bennett
“Classic” is the operative word, as Tony Bennett takes on songs like “White Christmas,” “Silent Night,” and “Winter Wonderland.” This is the year for Bennett revisiting favorite songs; his Duets II also came out this year, featuring songs like “The Lady Is a Tramp” and “Body and Soul” recorded with artists like Lady Gaga and Amy Winehouse. If there’s a Bennett fan in your life, your shopping list is pretty easy. But, for non-fans, do we really need both? If you’re looking to buy only one Bennett release this year, I’d say go with the duets, since at least they're trying to put a new spin on the songs. There's no shortage of crooners covering "White Christmas" out there.
A Holiday Carole by Carole King
Carole King hasn’t put out a “real,” new album since 2001. Whether or not we’re satisfied with just a few live albums and a holiday release, props to her for venturing out of the Christmas box with “Chanukah Prayer.”
Under the Mistletoe by Justin Bieber
Don’t kill me, fans of the Biebs, but since so much of this album is centered around Bieber’s holiday-related romantic longings, it’s creepy for anyone outside of his/her teenagehood to like this. This is especially true of his original song “Mistletoe,” which somehow combines a Jason Mraz-style, white-dude reggae beat with the sounds of sleigh bells. (And I’m pretty sure Santa doesn’t use the word “shorty” as much as Bieber does in this song.) I give him credit for trying to do an original Christmas song, but his very of-the-moment sound doesn't really jive with the holiday spirit, in my opinion. Take a look at the video.
Bieber fans, feel free to take your shots at me in the comments.
Articles Editor Marisa LaScala joined Westchester Magazine in 2003, and ever since she's blown every paycheck at the Greenburgh Multiplex. She also staunchly defends Richard Kelly, doesn't mind spoiling the endings of trashy movies you're curious about but don't want to pay to see, wishes the Hold Steady would come and rock out Westchester, misses Arrested Development more than anyone can imagine, and still watches cartoons and Saturday Night Live. You can find more of her cultural criticism at www.popmatters.com, where she is a staff writer.