I’m incredibly fed up. No, it’s not Bush’s pardons that are irking me… as long as he doesn’t hand one over to Scooter Libby I’m ok. I’m pretty sick of seeing red and green everywhere, but it’s Christmas time, so what can you expect, you just have to deal with it. No, what I’m sick of today is Christmas music. I’m not sure what it is (cough*money*) but every artist out there feels it’s not only their right but their absolute duty to remix the holiday classics in order to put out a Christmas album with a 93,000th rendition of “Jingle Bells.”
I’m not sure when we decided that the classic “Jingle Bells” wasn’t enough, nor for that matter when artists figured out the cash cow that is Christmas music. Every year, a different pop artist attempts to cash in on the act. Over the years, I’ve seen the travesty of Christmas albums put out by country artists and vocal crooners. I’m confused as to just how many versions of the same 11 songs these artists think is logically necessary.
Do I sound “bah humbug” here? Don’t get me wrong… I’m all for mixing and matching, and certainly in favor of a remix industry that allows artists of various genres to expand the musical universe, but there’s a difference between the creative re-working of music and the canned grab for money that the industry orchestrates in the Christmas music album rush every December.
The problem is that none of it is actually very good. I could go into a studio, put down a faux drum beat and carol for the microphone and it would probably come out in the general vicinity of skill displayed by other Christmas albums. Often the background music is just cheesy tones and chimes to provide the melody while an uninspired, already multi-millionaire artist sings the same lyrics sung by 100s of other artists because, hell, when you can clear a couple thousand dollars just by re-singing Christmas, you’d have to be stupid not to, right?
I think the worst would have to be Paul McCartney. As a former Beatle, the man has more money than several third world countries combined. There is absolutely no reason for him to be putting out a Christmas album, and yet he did. And since he did, I’ve contemplated suicide every Christmas morning when my Mom faithfully puts on his album with the song “Wonderful Christmas Time.” Now, McCartney’s transgression is worst than most… other artists settle for a CD of Christmas covers. You can’t really screw up a Christmas cover unless you try. But being the creative force that he believes himself to be, McCartney instead writes a new Christmas song that is so hideously bad that it sounds like a 4th grader in England could have written it. It not only tarnishes McCartney, but it tarnishes Christmas.
Steven Colbert jumped on the bandwagon this year, although, his foray into the Christmas album world is with a grain of salt as I believe he’s donating the proceeds, and the only real reason he did it was to create an album that could knock Kanye West’s 808 and Heartbreaks from the top spot on the charts. It worked. So on a humorous note, I don’t have a problem with this kind of album… it’s just the albums that are canned re-workings of holiday songs that I have a problem with.
But I wouldn’t rant like this if I wasn’t going to offer you a solution. The other night while watching Conan O’Brien, a longtime favorite group of mine was the musical act. Bela Fleck and the Flecktones came on at the end of the show to do a song off of their new album, a Christmas affair titled Jingle All the Way, and the track smoked. While other artists want to give you the same 4:30 version you’ve heard before, only with their voice and slightly different backings, the Flecktones bring their signature free-wheelin’ jazz style to create beautiful new takes on worn-out classics. As Gavroche stated last night after watching the segment, “It’s like acid jazz Christmas music.”
Fleck’s mastery of the banjo, Jeff Coffin’s breathless and frenetic horn playing, Vic Wooten’s blistering bass work and Futureman’s percussion work that always strays outside the boundaries make this Christmas album unlike any you’ve heard before. The instruments breathe the words into these instrumentals, and the songs never fear to bring out the creative musical flair that the group brings to all of its endeavors. Furthermore, the track selection and depth of musicianship here help eliminate any idea that the group did the album for the Christmas cash… artistically, they have always only done what they’ve wanted to do, so the organic composition of this album and its release speaks to their current desire to make Christmas music. And with all of the garbage Christmas covers floating around out there, who can blame them?
So if you’re tired of hearing the same songs every December, but the family insists on Christmas music, give Jingle All the Way a shot… it’s the musical brandy for your usually dull egg nog stereo.