Arts & Culture

Compton’s Christmas Compendium

Alec Compton’22

Arts & Culture Editor

  • Dean Martin: The Dean Martin Christmas Album (1966)

Dean Martin’s slick, soulful vocals sound at home amongst the gorgeous instrumentals presented here. The album is mixed so that Dean’s voice is the only stem coming through in mono, with choir vocals and the band being panned mostly in opposite ears, selling that Dean’s vocals are the centerpiece. However, the overreliance on said choir and the lack of variety on the album isn’t quite made up for by the tight runtime. Each song works great on its own, but all together the album suffers from a song structure that doesn’t change from track to track. That’s not to say that this entry in Dino’s catalogue isn’t worthwhile, it just isn’t the dynamic listen it should be. (6.8/10)

  • Elvis Presley: Elvis’ Christmas Album (1957)

Surprisingly, Elvis’ Christmas Album doesn’t sound awkward. I wouldn’t have guessed that the king of rock and roll could so effortlessly pull off very slow and stripped back Christmas ballads. The record is made up majorly of these ballads, mostly concerning religion, with some rock and roll songs to break up the monotony. Elvis’ imperfect voice as well as the underproduced nature of this album give it a very live and personal feel, which helps to lesson the blow of a somewhat inconsistent track list. The closer “It is no secret” feels incredibly slow and boring. Elvis’ Christmas Album is not perfect, but it is a quite impressively endearing listen and showcases Elvis’ vocal versatility. (7.8/10)

  • The Jackson 5: Jackson 5 Christmas Album (1970)

With a current roster of Jackie, Jermaine, Marlon, Tito, and Michael Jackson; the Jackson 5 prove on Jackson 5 Christmas Album that their strengths lie in fun and lively songs, not downtempo slow burners. Songs like “Up on the Housetop” are incredibly enjoyable but the momentum they build is broken up by songs like “Little Drummer Boy” a tiresome song which, ironically, lacks a pulse. The only slower song which works is the Michael Jackson led “Give Love on Christmas Day” which begins an excellent three track run to close out the album. It’s inconsistent, but when Jackson 5 Christmas Album works, it’s incredibly slick, danceable, and charming.

(7.2/10)

  • Anne Murray: Anne Murray Christmas

Anne Murray Christmas is a very straightforward Christmas Album. Most of the covers are done very “by the books” and lack their own unique qualities to separate them from any other rendition. Anne Murray Is clearly a talented vocalist, and the covers are good, just not special enough to leave an impact. The album really shines on the tracks that, at least to me, are not as classic as other songs, mostly filling up the back end of the record. The song “Christmas in Killarney” is particularly charming and rootsy, and “Born in Bethlehem” is a particularly groovy cut that begins a run of unique, quality tracks until the end of the album. Anne Murray Christmas shines during its unique moments but is not consistently adventurous and can lack identity at parts. (6.1/10)

  • CeeLo Green: CeeLo’s Magic Moment

CeeLo’s Magic Moment is weird, eccentric, and consistently fun. The album has a distinct weird personality, with stranger highlights being the Muppet assisted “All I Need Is Love” or the acapella “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”. The album’s bread and butter are up-tempo tracks with layered instrumentals like opener “What Christmas Means to Me”, an excellent tone setter for the rest of the record. This intro’s energy is carried through on most of the tracks on the album, but even slower songs like “River” are made enthralling by CeeLo’s powerful voice. The only issue with this record is that it could be trimmed down one or two songs, as tracks such as “Please Come Home for Christmas” don’t add much to the album. Regardless, CeeLo’s Magic Moment is a uniquely joyous and fantastic Christmas album. (8.3/10)

  • Michael Buble: Christmas

The seventh song “Santa Baby” is Michael Buble’s interpretation of the classic Christmas song of the same name, but with a twist. The original song is from a woman’s perspective, singing to Santa Claus about her wants. Buble decides to take the song from a male perspective, replacing “Santa Baby” with “Santa Buddy”. The result is possibly one of the most jaw-droppingly painful listening experiences I have ever been put through. Buble croons about how badly he wants a 65 convertible, Vancouver Canucks tickets, and a Rolex in a cringeworthily playful voice. at one point in the track Buble swaps out “Santa buddy” with “Santa Pally” and on first listen I physically convulsed in my chair. The song is unbearable, and is a blemish on the album, and music as a concept. The rest of the album is just uninspired, rarely was new ground tread, and every time the album piqued my interest Buble was not the subject but rather the occasionally interesting guitar work. (4.5/10)

  • Alvin and the Chipmunks: Christmas with the Chipmunks

My second foray into the music of Album and the Chipmunks (see last year’s December edition for the first) and not much has changed. The Chipmunk’s work is charming but tiresome, and the character wears off after one or two songs. On this particular album however, the mixing is absolutely terrible. The vocals of the Chipmunks are exclusively in the left ear, with all instruments in the other. This leads to the Chipmunks already irritating vocals becoming unbearable, as they whine exclusively in the left ear. The tracks where Dave (the Chipmunk’s adoptive father” sings have his vocals mono, but his vocals are far too quiet in the mix, completely ruining the songs. I would have some sympathy for the album if it were older, but these masters are from 1999 so these mixing choices are inexcusable. The only truly great song and mix is “The Chipmunk Song” but other than that Christmas with the Chipmunks is pretty much worthless besides being a textbook example of how bad mixing can ruin a record. (2.3/10)

  • Tyler the Creator: Music Inspired by Illumination & Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch

Tyler the Creator’s attempt at a Christmas EP (it’s only 10 minutes long) fails pretty miserably. The album starts and finishes with two mediocre instrumental interludes with four songs sandwiched in between. All guests featured on these songs (Santigold, Ryan Beatty, Jerry Paper) completely phone in their appearances and Tyler performs no better. The instrumentals are reminiscent of Tyler’s WOLF era, but unlike those instrumentals these ones are limp and vapid and fail to evoke any emotion. The sole savior of this EP is the mediocre “Big Bag”, easily the most energetic song on the EP even if it sounds hastily thrown together. All I love about Tyler the Creator’s later work (Call Me If You Get Lost, Igor) is not present on this EP, which leaves nearly no impact on me save for a general disliking. (2.5.10)

  • Taylor Swift: The Taylor Swift Holiday Collection

Taylor Swift’s Christmas EP is a relatively standard affair for the pop-country superstar. Releasing a year after her debut, The Taylor Swift Holiday Collection maintains the same sonic style as her first record with a few festive elements thrown in. It’s airtight at 6 tracks and brings the country twang expected from this era of Swift’s music. Most of the tracks go over decently (except for “Christmases When You Were Mine”, a truly stellar cut) but a lack of ambition hold’s the EP back from being the truly realized work it could be, as most tracks are simply a standard affair for Taylor. (6.2/10)

  • BB King: A Christmas Celebration of Hope

BB King is in top form on A Christmas Celebration of Hope. The guitar work in the record really shines, with superb guitar solos scattered about songs that never seem to go on too long. King’s sense of humour shines on this release, with the track “Back Door Santa” standing out as a particularly witty track. There are also a few stellar instrumental tracks featuring longer solos from King, sometimes backed by an organ. The album is a bit one note, with a very similar song structure being employed from track to track, but King is so good at what he does that this homogeneity doesn’t feel draining. (8/10) 

  • Bing Crosby: White Christmas

Bing Crosby’s White Christmas is the standard for Christmas albums. Released in 1945, Crosby helped to define the sound that artists like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin would develop later in their respective Christmas albums. Despite being so old, White Christmas has been preserved phenomenally, with very few issues in the recordings and a crisp clear sound. The track list is hyper consistent, with the standout track being the effortlessly fun Mele Kalikimaka, a fun Hawaiian themed Christmas song. White Christmas has aged like fine wine and manages to be engaging despite how much its style has become saturated over time. (9/10)

  • Bryson Tiller: A Different Christmas

Released this year, Bryson Tiller’s A Different Christmas is a short selection of tracks which incorporate Tiller’s signature combination of trap and soul with the sounds of traditional Christmas music. While I commend Tiller for making this bold move in an environment of uniform Christmas albums, the record is pretty hit or miss. Song’s such as “presents” or “aint a lonely christmas song” are good incorporations of Tiller’s sound, but the opener and the Justin Bieber assisted “Lonely Christmas” fall flat. At such a slim runtime (18 minutes) the record really can’t afford to have duds in the track list, and to start of with such a weak opener is really damaging. Fortunately, there are enough winners to make A Different Christmas somewhat worthwhile, especially if you are a listener who doesn’t really connect with the older, more conventional style of Christmas music. (5.5/10)

  • Ariana Grande: Christmas and Chill

As a fan of her later records (Sweetener being a favourite pop album of mine) I expected to very much enjoy Grande’s 2015 Christmas EP, but sadly Christmas and Chill doesn’t even scrape the surface of her potential. 6 tracks long, Christmas and Chill’s first five songs are utterly uninteresting. There was very clearly minimal to no effort put into this collection, with Grande just barely getting by vocally on each track, sounding as unadventurous as she ever has. As one of the most renowned singers in Pop Music one would figure she would show off to make up for the banal instrumentals, but sadly Grande matches their energy exactly. The EP’s closer “Winter Things” is the only salvageable song in the tracklist, but even it still has a very inorganic instrumental that does not complement the interesting concept of the song. Boring. (3.5/10)

  • Ariana Grande: Christmas Kisses

Ariana Grande’s 4-track Christmas EP is quite a fun detour from her larger body of work. At only four tracks there really isn’t a lot of substance to the work as a whole, but each track is relatively enjoyable. The strongest tracks are “Last Christmas” and “Snow in California”, the former a very lively and catchy rendition of the classic song and the latter a slower ballad. The closer “Santa Baby” is fun and sultry if a little bland, but the song “Love is Everything” leaves something to be desired and is the definitive low-point of the EP, although it’s not particularly bad. It’s too short to leave a major impact, but Christmas Kisses is a very agreeable collection of Christmas songs, elevated by Grande’s enigmatic vocals. (6.7/10)

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