Friday, December 29, 2006

Top 50 Singles of 2006

I said I'd wait until 2007 before I made another post, but, hell, I'm sitting at home sick and don't really have anything better to do.

Here is my list of my top 50 favorite singles of 2006. So thus, it had to be released as a single this year, and though there are some with questionable eligibility, there is no out-and-out cheating. So, no "Not This Year" et al. Maybe later I'll make a post on the songs of 2006 that would have made the top 50 but for lack of eligibility. This considers all singles in 2006, teenpop or no, so let's just set aside the blog's theme for now. Presented with minimal commentary. If you're really curious what I have to say about a song with no commentary you can noodle around the blog and you'll probably find it. Or else leave a comment or email, of course.

I want to say that this was an excellent year for singles (much better than 2005 and 2004, less strong at the top than 2003 but just as deep). I really had to squeeze to get it down to 50, and I left some great stuff out. So if a song's not listed here that doesn't mean I don't like it. Pretty much every song here is ranked lower than I feel it should be, but that's the way it is in a deep year.


50. Toby Keith - "A Little Too Late"
Most (all?) of Toby's previous great singles have been uptempo rockin' ravers ("How Do You Like Me Now", "As Good As I Once Was"), but this is a catchy ballad! Good work Toby.
49. Kelly Clarkson - "Walk Away"
My least favorite single off Breakway, but still a great song. I would have preferred "Gone" or "Addicted"
48. CSS - "Let's Make Love and Listen Death From Above"
A really great pop song that edges out many other top 50 contenders because of its originality. For a pop song, it's not catchy enough and doesn't have good enough lyrics to merit a higher spot than this. That being said numbers 38 or so to 50 are incredibly tightly bunched.
47. Peter Bjorn & John - "Young Foks"
Sometimes the indie crowd IS right after all. That being said, this song is worse than it could be (Kogan terminology: The band is at war with their talents). I wish a proper pop band would do a cover of it. Could be rated too low by me here, but despite the great chorus + whistling, the verses and production don't seem to go anywhere really. Nevertheless I'm liking this more and more the more I hear it.
46. Aly & AJ - "Chemicals React"
Not the last time A&A will show up on this list. Lyrically below a lot of the rest of their material, but it still has plenty of evocative imagery and good lines, and of course one hell of a catchy tune. The girls can rock! Probably Aly & AJ's worst vocal performance though.
45. Jessica Simpson - "A Public Affair"
"Push Your Tush" shoulda been a single! This is a really fun song.
44. Young Joc - "It's Going Down"
May be kicking myself in a few months for putting this so low, but this is where it feels right at this time.
43. Hannah Montana - "If We Were a Movie"
Hannah in love. How cute.
42. Sara Evans - "Coalmine"
Kinda like a second rate version of "Suds in the Bucket", but "Suds" is one of my top 10 singles of the decade to this point, so...Anyways, I have a huge blindspot for Sara Evans, admittedly, so this placement may need to be taken with a grain of salt. But why was "You'll Always Be My Baby" a single over, say, "New Hometown" or "These Four Walls"? Those would both rank above this, though this is a fun song.
41. Shakira ft. Wyclef - "Hips Don't Lie"
By my estimation, the fourth best number one single of 2006 (in America). It was a good year for number ones. Now bubble with anticipation as to which three will rank above it. I'm not a big fan of Wyclef's or Shakira's voices, but they work for this song. It's all rather ridiculous, but it does work. Great horn sample.
40. Paris Hilton - "Stars are Blind"
So out of place on the album! One of several great songs on the album, there's a few non-singles that would rank ahead of this one (say "Screwed" or "Jealousy"). The pop-reggae stuff is maybe getting a bit played out, but this is pretty, and Paris' personality-less vocals actually work in its favor, I think.
39. Nelly Furtado - "Maneater"
Nelly F. reinvents herself to great results. Well to the results of a few great singles and a bunch of filler. More Nelly F. to come. This song started out much, much higher but has been falling all year. Not a whole lot of replay value. I think this is about its floor.
38. Montgomery Gentry - "Some People Change"
"Hey Country" is better, but not a single. I like the lyrics to this song, plus the chorus is a genuine powerhouse.
37. LeAnn Rimes - "And It Feels Like"
A Europe-only release, for whatever reason. Totally not country, but really good. I do like some of her country releases this year too. "Some People" was a late cut from the top 50.
36. Christina Aguilera - "Hurt"
A pretty ballad. Probably worse than "Beatutiful", but not by much. Possibly my favorite song on the disappointing Back to Basics album ("Candyman" is good too).
35. Ciara - "Promise"
Possibly ranked way too low, but I just heard this song for the first time a couple weeks ago and don't feel comfortable rating it higher at this point. Thems the breaks. Not a top 10 single of the year in any event.
34. Jordan Pruitt - "Outside Looking In"
I did half of a post on this song here.
33. Rihanna - "SOS (Rescue Me)"
I don't mind the blatant sample. They make the sample feel like a natural part of the song, which is hard to do, and plus the song has a lot more going for it than just that sample. Very catchy.
32. Meg and Dia - "Monster"
"Indiana" would be much higher, but this is the second best song on the album. And that's probably one of my top 10 albums of '06 (whoops, spoiler alert!) A great, extremely dramatic and original song. You can have your Grizzly Bear or Hold Steady or Band of Horses, these girls do indie rock better than any of them.
31. Amy Winehouse - "Rehab"
A great song on an album full of consistently great songs. Luv the lyrics and the melody. This would (probably) have been top 20 in 2004 or 2005. When it comes to modern day updates/revivals of old R&B sounds, I'll take Amy Winehouse over the Pipettes any day.
30. The Research - "Lonely Hearts Still Beat the Same"
Stylus fave is also a Greg Fanoe fave. Great lyrics and a pretty melody. The female vocalist is not a great singer, though.
29. Aly & AJ - "Greatest Time of Year"
One of the great Christmas pop songs of recent times. Of all time, really. 9/9 cutoff. All the songs ranked below this on this list are rated 8/10 (I'm a big ol softie of a grader).
28. Brie Larson - "Coming Around"
I fully admit to being an absolute sucker for this type of song: Pretty, acoustic instrumentation, cute and sweet melody, and a good female singer on top of it. Pretty good, though pretty generic, love song lyrics. Better than anything on Brie's first album. Questionable eligibility. For some reason I decided this song was eligible and "Stilts and the Titanic" wasn't. Both would have made it if both were eligible. This is kind of included to represent both, I guess. So even though neither song is individually higher than an 8/10, I cheated and moved this song higher than it really deserves. Not to say I don't love this song, because I do!
27. Hannah Montana - "The Best of Both Worlds"
Still more to come from my favorite singles artist of the year. (Aly & AJ would be very close if not ahead were "Not This Year" a single).
26. Nelly Furtado - "Promiscuous [Girl]"
A consensus seems to have developed that this is the best song on the Nelly F album, but I actually have one other rated above it (among the singles at least).
25. Morningwood - "Nth Degree"
Their best song ever, by far, and I have my doubts they'll ever make anything else so good. But yet this is great.
24. Julie Roberts - "Men & Mascara"
Nashville country song of the year. There are actually 3 country singles rated above it but they are either not country or were on albums released last year. I love Julie's voice, plus it has a really sweet, pretty melody. Like I said I'm a sucker for it.
23. Hannah Montana - "This Is the Life"
Still sad that this flopped on Radio Diz.
22. Teddybears SHTLM ft. Mad Cobra - "Cobrastyle"
Very original and awesome. I prefer it to the Robyn version, personally, though I'm not a huge Robyn fan in general.
21. Charlotte Church - "Moodswings (to Come at Me Like That)"
Charlotte Church's debut pop album had 2 great songs and this was one of them. Seems to me to be a totally underrated single. I didn't realize until the very last minute that this was even eligible this year.
20. Natasha Bedingfield - "The One That Got Away"
Questionable eligibility, but it did have a chart life on the dance charts this year, so I declare it to be eligible. One of my favorite tracks off of one of my top 10 or 20 albums of the decade to this point. Rated based off the original, spare instrumentation and not the dance remix that charted on the dance charts and is included on the album. Cheating, perhaps, but I like the original mix better!
19. Britney Spears - "And Then We Kiss"
Europe only and questionable eligibility, but a great song. Why didn't this get an American release? Whatever, it makes me really look forward to her new album (if ever made). Possibly underrated, but I didn't hear the song until really late in the year, and this is where I feel comfortable ranking it right now.
18. The Veronicas - "4Ever"
Maybe the chorus of the year, but it doesn't seem to have much else going for it. The verses, production, and lyrics don't seem to be adding anything to the song for me.
17. High School Musical - "Breaking Free"
The TCR was, of course, far from immune from the HSM phenomenon this year. This is the best song from the film by far. I love the "Stick to the Status Quo" number in the movie, but it feels oddly lifeless on record. Rated too high because I also love the movie? I dunno. But come on, isn't "We're breaking free/SOA-ring/FLY-ing" one of the great moments in pop this year? I believe it is.
16. Fergie - "Fergalicious"
Like the Morningwood, this is the only song by this artist that I really love. Actually I hated it at first (I have a long history of hating Black Eyed Peas and Fergie, and I hated "London Bridge"). But one day as I was listening to it on the radio, it just clicked for me for whatever reason. Anyways, I still think the general sound/lyrics Fergie is going for is uninteresting, but she's perfected it here. Best music video of the year, as well. Musical acts with only one great song: Morningwood, Fergie, Anna Nalick ("Breathe (2AM)"), Sixpence None the Richer, Delta Goodrem ("Electric Storm").
15. T.I. - "What You Know"
Rap single of the year in what seems to me a pretty weak year for rap music. Like all of the other songs rated 11-16, it really pains me to leave this out of the top 10.
14. JoJo - "Too Little, Too Late"
JoJo has a breakthrough success with an R&B song with teen confessional lyrics. This makes me very happy. The album was a letdown, and "Leave (Get Out)" is still better.
13. Nelly Furtado - "Say It Right"
From the first time I heard Loose, this pretty ballad was my favorite song on it. My opinion has yet to be swayed on this, and I'm thrilled it's caught on with radio like "Maneater" never did. I bumped this out of the top 10 at the very last minute.
12. Camera Obscura - "Lloyd, I'm Ready to Be Heartbroken"
This was in my top 10 for most of the year until some better songs pushed it out. "Let's Get Out of This Country" was a late cut from the top 50. This is the indie band of the year. At least, defining "indie" in the way it is commonly used.
11. Texas Lightning - "No, No Never"
My favorite Eurovision entry this year by far, and my favorite in years. I wish their album had more original songs, or at least that the other original songs were this good. Anyways, German country music! This plays as almost a pastiche of country music, but it works to me, because of the pretty melody and good vocals.
10. Hilary Duff - "Play With Fire"
Hilary rips off Rachel Stevens and Greg rejoices. Hilary has now had one of my top 10 singes of the year for at least 3 years in a row ("Wake Up" in the bottom reaches of the top 10 in 2005 and "Come Clean" number 1 or 2 in 2004). I say "at least" because in 2003 "So Yesterday" would be close but that was such a great year for singles I think it would probably be left out of the top 10. But it would get top 10 consideration. The nearly spoken-word bridge is my favorite part of the song.
9. Paris Hilton - "Nothing in this World"
The best song on Paris' album. Dr. Luke proves himself again to be a genius.
8. All-American Rejects - "Move Along"
Rock song of the year. Fun video. I don't know or understand why "Dirty Little Secret" was a bigger hit, because this is a much better song. Good work AAR. This is the 10/10 cutoff, P-Hilt gets a 9 (would be a 10 but I don't like the "da da" part. And realistically it's like a 9.5). This 10/10 cutoff is incosistent with a previous post, but I decided I was rating too harshly there.
7. Carrie Underwood - "Before He Cheats"
The best song on her debut album, by far (though I like the album). So awesome. Proves that American Idols can flat out rock better than any Chris Daughtry song ever could. A genuine surprise, given that she did almost all country ballads on the show. This is one of the very few American Idol contestants I like better off the show than I liked on the show (though I also liked her on the show).
6. Hannah Montana - "I Got Nerve"
Possibly my favorite melody of the year, and Miley's a great singer. But it doesn't have much going for it lyrically and the production is nothing to write home about. But seriously, I could just listen to this melody all day long.
5. Marit Larsen - "Only a Fool"
2-5 are so awesome and so close in quality (at least rated based on how much I like them). I spent way too long sorting them out. It's nearly a coinflip as to the order of the songs. I really hate to rate this number 5, but I don't like it better than any of the above songs and it lost out on tiebreakers. Would have been comfortably number 2 in 2005 (not as good as "I Said Never Again (But Here We Are)", but well ahead of anything else released that year). Country song of the year.
4. Beyonce - "Irreplaceable"
Beyonce's best single. In a year full of great R&B ballads, this was the best. Tiebreaker for this over "Only a Fool" is lyrics. Though I like the lyrics to "Only a Fool" too.
3. Aly & AJ - "Rush"
Frank et al have convinced me that it deserves eligibility this year. Whatever year it's counted in, it's amazing. Tiebreaker over "Irreplaceable" is my fasciation with/love of Aly & AJ in general. Plus bonus points for "Not This Year"s non-inclusion. Oh plus I love the first half of the first chorus.
2. Amy Diamond - "Don't Cry Your Heart Out"
When 2-5 are absurdly close, as they are here, a good tiebreaker to move this to the top of the heap is that this is probably the song that I have listened to the greatest number of times in 2006. When I've heard a song that many times and still love it so much, that means something.
1. Lillix - "Sweet Temptation (Hollow)"
I've said numerous times that this is my favorite single of the year, so maybe that takes ome of the surprise out of this selection. A discrete chunk above the 2-5 cluster as the single of the year. My top 3 this year were all teenpop songs, which strikes me as odd, but that's just how it played out.

Explaining some exclusions:
Cassie, Scissor Sisters, Knife, Pipettes - All very meh to me. I still fail to understand the appeal of The Knife. "Your Kisses are Wasted on Me" is the only Pipettes song that received even the barest consideration, and even then it was a pretty early cut.
Justin T, Gnarls, Killers, "LDN" and "Who Said" were all late cuts but I like the songs.
"Not Ready To Make Nice" is not one of my 10 favorite Dixie Chicks songs. It's one of the better songs on their album, but it's probably my least favorite of the Chicks 4 major label studio albums. The love of the song, methinks, depends too strongly on factors external to the song itself. Not that it's inherently bad for the song to exist in an outside context, but the song itself doesn't do anything for me. I don't like the chorus at all and, yeah, the lyrics are good but if the music doesn't grab me, what's the point. And now I'm trying to be told this is the career masterpiece by a band that has "Travelin' Soldier" and "Goodbye Earl" in its catalogue? Puh-leeze.
"Kick, Push" will probably ultimately make my top 50 of the year, but I only just heard it for the first time a day or two ago and didn't feel comfortable including it right now. Not sounding like top 20 material at this point (too repetitive), but I like it.

I just realized that this list only has 10 songs with male vox on it (not counting Morningwood)! And only 9 if you half-count "Breaking Free" and "Hips Don't Lie". But whatever, I'm not going to shove in male vocalized songs that I like worse just to force an artificial balance. Still, it does make me think.

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Saturday, December 23, 2006

Have a Very Merry Teenpop Christmas

Jordan Pruitt and the TCR wish you all Happy Holidays.

Day 13 of the TCR Christmas Extravaganza (final day)

Well, this is it for me this year. My blog is going on a break until the new year, whence I will commence with brief year-in-review content, then go on to my usual blatherings. To close it out, I will present the OFFICIAL TCR TEENPOP CHRISTMAS MIX for all to listen to.

Not much commentary because it's basically composed of all the songs I've written about plus a few bonus tracks.

Very Merry Teenpop Christmas

1. Ali Lohan - "Lohan Holiday"
2. Hanson - "Everybody Knows the Claus"
3. 'N Sync - "Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays"
4. S Club 7 - "Perfect Christmas"
5. B2K ft. IMX - "My First Christmas"
6. Mariah Carey - "All I Want for Christmas Is You"
7. Cheetah Girls - "Five More Days 'Til Christmas"
8. Girls Aloud - "I Wanna Kiss You So (Christmas in a Nutshell)"
9. Aly & AJ - "Greatest Time of Year"
"Not This Year" is a better song, but it does have anti-Christmas lyrics. This is a happy album! Plus this is a great song too.
10. Hilary Duff - "Santa Claus Lane"
11. Christina Aguilera - "This Christmas"
12. Crazy Frog - "Jingle Bells"
Not the best song, but it wouldn't be a teenpop Christmas album without a cover of an extremely inane Christmas carol, now would it!
13. Skye Sweetnam - "Why Doesn't Santa Like Me"
h/t Cure for Bedbugs
14. Wham - "Last Christmas"
So frequently covered it had to be included, plus it's a good song. And Wham! was a teenpop band back in their day

No "Santa Don't Stop" because I couldn't find the mp3 to download anywhere! Boo! Of course, it would certainly have been included on this album (and would have been one of the better songs) if I had been able to find the mp3.

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

More Christmas Leftovers

Day 12 of the TCR Christmas Extravaganza

Last post covered the leftover albums, this post covers the leftover songs.

Britney Spears - "My Only Wish (This Year)"
I like Britney's work a lot, of course, and I've noticed a few pop people talking this up. I had high hopes for it. But dear God this sucks ass. Really cheesy lyrics & cheesy melody. Not that there's anything inherently wrong with that, but the lyrics are almost a direct ripoff of "All I Want For Christmas Is You" (only worse), and the melody just isn't catchy enough. Needs a little bit more oomph to the melody, or a better backing track or just SOMETHING more than what it has. As it is, it's just barely there. One to pass on.
Youtube: My Only Wish (This Year)

Crazy Frog - "Last Christmas"
I've noticed that "Last Christmas" is a pretty common cover fodder for this teen/tween bubblegum crew. But I've yet to hear a really essential version of it (including the Wham! version, actually). This one certainly doesn't qualify. It's basically the normal song sung by a disco/Europop singer, with with a disco/Europop beat behind it. Random Crazy Frog interjections throughout the song. Very half-assed.
Youtube: Last Christmas

'N Sync - "Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays"
This is a very upbeat song, and not a ballad as I expected it to be. This was the debut single off of their Christmas album, which was mostly mediocre. This, however, is a pretty good song. Not the best 'N Sync single, not by a long shot, but not a bad song either. The main hook in the chorus is good. Extremely generic lyrics, like the title would imply, which hurts the song but not irreparably so. References to snow, Santa, bells, family, "wonderful feeling", God, "gifts under the tree". Features a gospel choir towards the end. So yeah, like I said quite generic, but the hook in the chorus is good enough to justify the existence of the song, if not to make it a classic. One of the better teen pop Christmas songs.
Youtube: Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays

Hanson - "Everybody Knows the Claus"
This was the main original track off of Hanson's now forgotten Christmas album Snowed In, which was released in late 1997, right at the height of their popularity. It's your typical quick cash in album, featuring a rather uninspired slate of 8 covers and 3 originals, only one of which I was able to track down. The covers, of what I heard, are pleasant enough, though rather generic. Where Hanson's originals are concerned, I of course like "MmmBop" and I still have a soft spot for "Where's the Love". This doesn't stack up to those, but it's not BAD per se. This song is very much in the style of Hanson's other hits, and is an obvious grab at recreating their popularity. But like most of their tracks it's got a nice guitar sound and a nice melody in the chorus. The melody in the chorus does fall a bit flat, but it's still enough to get stuck in your head. And you can say what you want about the lyrics, but they certainly aren't generic. The lyrics are about how Santa loves food and is fat. Sample: "Don't you smell the cookies he's bakin'/Can't you see that belly, its shakin'/Don't take a cookie off of that pan/You don't want to mess with this man." A fairly inspired idea for a song, and the execution makes the lyrics quite silly. So while the song doesn't really seem to go anywhere in particular, it's a worthy entry into the teenpop Christmas canon.
Can't find anywhere to listen to it for free online.

Hannah Montana - "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree"
For the Cheetah Girls, Aly&AJ, and Hilary Duff, they went the route of doing a full Christmas album filled with catchy original tracks. The original tracks on both of those albums are right up there with anything else they've done. For Hannah Montana, apparently, they are just doing one single cover song, rather than a whole album. At least for this year. They are going for a really rocked out arrangement on this, it's far more rock than anything that's on HM's album. To be honest, while I love HM's voice, it's not very well suited to this type of singing. I wish they would stick with the mid-tempo to up-tempo pure pop songs, because man does her voice sound amazing on those. But when you get a song like a dance song or a rock song that requires her to inject a bit of edge to her voice, in my opinion, she lacks the strength of voice to pull it off. Not only that, but the song itself isn't one of the best Christmas songs out there. Hopefully this will quickly fade away & be forgotten so that Miley can move on to what she can actually do well at. Nice electric guitar sound on the production though.
Youtube: Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree

S Club 7 - "Perfect Christmas"
Like the Hannah Montana single above, this was basically a bonus track for the fans, not on any of their actual albums, and not on a Christmas album of any sort. Unlike that track it's an original track, and not a cover. They've gone for a slow ballad for this take, sung mostly by Rachel and Jo, two of the females in the group. The vocals of the males in the group can barely be heard on this, even on the big harmonized chorus. Like a lot of the other songs I've reviewed (too many, if you ask me) this isn't a Christmas song, so much as a love song that mentions Christmas in the lyrics. So yeah, like "All I Want for Christmas Is You" it's about how she really just wants to spend Christmas with her beau, and the lyrics are rather generic and unremarkable. But, it's got a really great melody, and overall it's a rather pretty song. Catchy chorus, with very nice harmonies, and Rachel & Jo really nail the verses too. The instrumentation is rather spare, but I like what they've done with the percussion and strings a lot. A good pop ballad.
Youtube: Perfect Christmas

Jordan Pruitt - "Santa Don't Stop"
Well, I like Jordan Pruitt a lot, as previously stated, especially "Outside Looking In". I even like her cover of "We Are Family". So when I heard that she had a new Christmas song out written by the same team who wrote "Outside Looking In" and (the also good) "Teenager" (and "Jump to the Rhythm" too), I was very excited to hear it. The lyric to this song describes how Jordan's boyfriend has wronged her, and thus doesn't deserve any presents. "Someone's been a really bad boy this Christmas/Someone's been acting more naughty than nice/Santa don't stop to give him toys/Someone's been a really bad, a really bad boy". The verses go on to explain how he broke her heart, etc. Good lyrics, and a lyrical concept that I don't believe I've ever heard in another Christmas song. I'm starting to really like Robin Scoffield as a lyricist. That being said, I'm slightly distressed to see that this continues along the R&B lite track of "Teenager" rather than the confessional track of "Outside Looking In". Though it's not out and out R&B like "Jump to the Rhythm" is. That doesn't mean it's a bad song, because it isn't, but just that I was hoping Jordan Pruitt was gonna be the new confessional savior, which it's now clear she won't be. I guess "Outside Looking In" was a one shot deal. Nothing really Christmas-y about the production, either. Anyways, despite the previous, good lyrics, a very catchy chorus, and a nice guitar underlying the production make this the best Christmas teen pop song reviewed in this post yet (OK, maybe "Perfect Christmas"). I was a bit let down by "Jump to the Rhythm", but I'm starting to look forward to that album more and more. Very similar to "Teenager", actually (although I think "Santa Don't Stop" is better), so if you liked that one this is definitely one to check out.
Myspace: Santa Don't Stop

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Monday, December 18, 2006

Christmas Leftovers

Day 11 of the TCR Christmas Extravaganza

In today's edition of the TCRCE, I will do miniature reviews of 3 of the Christmas albums that I don't have the energy/will to write up in full (Cheetah Girls, Girls Aloud, and Mariah Carey). Coming up later this week will be a post picking up the last few remaining stragglers of songs that I downloaded but didn't write up yet.

Cheetah Girls - Cheetahlicious Christmas

Released late in 2005, 2 years after the first Cheetah Girls movie + album, with no intervening material in between, and almost a year before their second movie + album, it's hard to see what the point of this album was. This is also still their only album apart from those two soundtracks, although as I understand they have another non-soundtrack album coming out next year. Whoopee. This follows in the footsteps of Hilary Duff's Santa Claus Lane in that it's a Christmas album released early on in their careers, which features a higher percentage of original songs than you might expect on one of these albums. The album has six originals out of thirteen songs, plus a rather interesting slate of covers. Only 2 traditional carols are covered ("Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" and, inevitably, "Feliz Navidad"), as well as 2 older pop songs that are now Christmas standards ("I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" and "Marshmallow World"), and covers of 3 additional Christmas pop songs ("This Christmas", "Last Christmas" and "All I Want For Christmas Is You"). All of the covers are markedly inferior to the original, especially the two traditional songs, which are virtually unlistenable. All of the covers are given the kiddie-R&B flare the band is known for, and their take on "All I Want for Christmas Is You" is, entirely uncharacteristic of this band, entirely too subdued. Bonus points though for covering "Marshmallow World" which is a personal favorite of mine. Brenda Lee is way better. Other than the two classics though, none of the covers are too bad.

The quality of the originals on this album is surprisingly good. Free of the tyranny of Raven Symone, the three remaining Cheetahs all give good and rather restrained vocal performances. "Five More Days 'Til Christmas", which was the second single off this album, is far, far superior to any of their junk that was clogging up Radio Disney prior to the release of "Cheetah Girls 2". It is, rather shockingly, catchy and an actual pop song, and not mediocre faux-R&B over a Latin beat. And not only is the music good, but the lyrics perfectly capture youthful excitement for Christmas in a way that few other Christmas songs do. This was a real surprise. None of the other singles are quite as good. "The Perfect Christmas" & "No Ordinary Christmas" are the same, in that they have an OK melody in the chorus, but don't really go anywhere. Generic lyrics don't help either. "Cheetah-licious Christmas" was the debut single off of the album, and if you can forgive the egregious title, it's not really THAT bad, but it's not good either. This is your typical Cheetahs song, with the R&B beats, generic & silly melody, and overly self-referential lyrics. It's one of the better of those songs, but let's be honest, that type of song has a pretty low ceiling. Similar to most of the Cheetah Girls 2 songs, I wouldn't switch off the radio just because it was on, but I'm not gonna actively attempt to listen to it either. "The Simple Things" is the last original on the album, and it's pretty good. It's basically like a worse and more Cheetah-fied version of "Five Days 'Til Christmas". It's better than any of the other Cheetah product I've heard (except "B'You"!)

I was expecting a whole album full of "Cheetah-licious Christmas" type songs and was pleasantly surprised. There's no "Not This Year" on here, but there's no "Amigas Cheetahs" either, and it makes for an overall very pleasant listen. Just program your stereo to skip "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" and "Feliz Navidad". 6/10.

Youtube: Five Days 'Til Christmas (terrible sound quality but it's all I could find), "Cheetah-licious Christmas" (much better sound quality but not actually a good song)

Girls Aloud - Chemistry bonus disc

This is British teen pop, which I normally don't cover but wanted to cover for now, because this is really a stellar Christmas album. As this is a bonus disc, it's not a full length album per se at only 8 songs. But 6 of those 8 songs are originals (the two covers are "Jingle Bell Rock" and "White Christmas"), which means it has just as much original content, and in most cases more, as the other albums I've reviewed herein. Anyways, I'm not as huge a Girls Aloud fan as many of the other Poptimists, but I do like some of their work, and this album here distils all I like about their music while wiping away the stuff I don't care for in their work (boring ballads + I don't like their more electro- songs). Their "Jingle Bell Rock" is actually superior to most versions I've heard of this song but I still refuse to listen to it, their "White Christmas" is too busy on the production side. "White Christmas" is such a classic melody that I think it works better on really stripped productions and simple vocals that don't distract from the melodic line. Apart from that, the originals are great. "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day" is a nicely peppy pop song with a very catchy melody, nice harmonies, and simple production. Plus it has extremely fun & cute lyrics. "I Wanna Kiss You So (Christmas in a Nutshell)" is the clear standout here. This is not impossibly my favorite Girls Aloud song, and if it had been a single like it should have been it would likely have made my top 10 of 2005. What can I say, it was a weak year, I like Christmas songs, and that pre-chorus will get stuck in my head for days. Great payoff in the chorus too. "Count the Days" is another of their boring ballads, but actually it's got quite a pretty melody. Plus Christmas lyrics always make anything better, of course. The remaining three originals ("Not Tonight Santa", "Christmas Round at Ours" and "Merry Xmas Everybody") are all good songs, though none of them really grab me. They're all a bit meh to me actually. And "Christmas Round at Ours" has anti-Christmas lyrics that annoy me. Grinches.

It has the same problem as all Girls Aloud material to me, and that's inconsistency. They always have some songs that I really love (e.g. "The Show" or "Models") and some that I really don't care for at all. If they could put together a whole album at the same quality as their peak work, it would be a classic. As it stands, I like this better than their debut or Chemistry, and about as much as What Will the Neighbors Say. 8/10 (I'm feeling in a generous mood today).

Youtube: "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day", ("I Wanna Kiss You So" not on YouTube, boo!)

Mariah Carey - Merry Christmas

Not necessarily teen pop, per se, but certainly extremely popular among the teen set, and anyways close enough. I've always wanted the excuse to listen to this whole album. Only two originals on this album, so a lot of it hinges on the quality of the originals. We all know Mariah Carey has a really good singing voice, but a tendency to oversing. Fortunately, she decides to keep that in check sometimes, producing a nicely restrained version of "Silent Night". But also a horribly oversung version of "Oh Holy Night" so it's a crapshoot. Her version of "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" is a ton of fun, and one of the best versions of the song I've heard. It almost makes me wish she had done more upbeat songs on this album. But then I listen to two of the other covers, "Joy to the World" and "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" which are certainly upbeat and are HORRIBLE and SO GODDAMN CHEESY. So a really inconsistent slate of covers on this, although the slate of hymns done at the end of this album are very pretty. Though occassionally oversung, they have great melodies, and Mariah is smart enough not to smother them with vocal gymnastics.

That leaves the two originals. "Miss You Most (At Christmas Time)", the second single off the album, is a slow ballad about breaking up. A sad love song, along the lines of "Last Christmas" but also highlighting specifically how the happiness present at Christmas time can make her especially sad (proto-"Not This Year"?) It's an extremely pretty song with appropriately sad (and really good) lyrics and one of Mariah's better ballads. It goes on a little long and, yeah, it's a bit boring, but I really love the spare arrangement of strings and piano. She goes into the vocal gymnastics a bit too much towards the end, but this is a winner.

But who am I kidding. This album is today considered a Christmas classic, and is far better remembered than any of these other pop Christmas albums I've reviewed to this point. The Xtina album has come and gone, the HDuff is barely remembered, the Cheetahs and B2K never made a real impact. But this one, which was released 12 years ago, well before any of the other albums I've reviewed, lives on today. It's still considered a modern pop Christmas classic, along with Celine Dion and Amy Grant. And you know as well as I that there is one reason, and one reason alone for that. If not for "All I Want For Christmas Is You", this album would have suffered the fate of the rest I reviewed. It's a modern Christmas classic that's infiltrated pop culture as much as any of the "classic" Christmas carols, which seemed impossible but it happened! Billboard started releasing a digital songs chart last year, which tracks how well mp3s are selling on online retailerships. And we all watched as "All I Want For Christmas Is You", 11 years after the fact, entered the chart in November, and ultimately climbed to number 1 in Christmas last year. And it's well on the way this year, sitting at number 8 as of this writing. As well it should be. Because this is definitely, in the opinion of the TCR, the best Christmas song of all time (and if you don't like it you have no soul). Calling back to 60s R&B while still remaining inherently modern, this song combines all the best aspects of Christmas into one song. What incredibly happy lyrics and what an incredible melody. I cannot listen to this song without cracking a smile, and I doubt many of my readership can either. This has been covered a few times, most notably and recently for Love Actually, but I have yet to hear one that even touches the sheer joy of Mariah's version. Mariah's best song to date and one of the 10 or 20 best singles of the 90s. This song deserves, and one day may get, its own post as it's probably the single song that's most responsible for my poptimism today.

Featuring one incredibly amazing original, one good original ballad, and an extremely inconsistent slate of covers, this is a really hard one to assign a numerical rating to. Let's just say 6/10 and call it a day.

Youtube: "All I Want for Christmas Is You" (great video), "Miss You Most (at Christmas Time)"

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Saturday, December 16, 2006

Why "Not This Year" Is My Favorite Song of 2006 (Part 2)

Subtitle: Why my previous review significantly underrated Acoustic Hearts of Winter.

Read Part 1 first, or else this won't make too much sense.

Day 10 of the TCR Christmas Extravaganza (this day has at least some relation to Christmas too!)

OK, now I want to explore how my previous statements on the image of Aly & AJ, and the inherent contradictions in their image reflect upon my analysis of their music. And since this is Christmas season, I'm going to apply it to Acoustic Hearts of Winter and, remember, this whole two part post is meant to explain why "Not This Year" is my favorite song of 2006, in what has been in my opinion an incredible year for singles.

OK, before I get into "Not This Year", I need to first get into "Greatest Time of Year", which is the opening track and single on AHOW. First, here are the lyrics to the song:

"It's the greatest time of year, and it's here
Help me celebrate it
With everybody here, friends so dear
Let me simply state it
It's our favourite way to spend the holiday

There's a special kind of feeling in the air
It only happens at this time of year
When everyone is filled with love and cheer
'Cause that's what matters
Pretty paper boxes tied with bows
Walking in the sun or in the snow
We can feel the excitement growing, growing

It's the greatest time of year, and it's here
Help me celebrate it
With everybody here, friends so dear
Let me simply state it
Joy to the world and everyone
Lift up your hearts and feel the love
It's our favourite way, to spend the holiday

We can get all cozy by the fire
Turn the music up a little higher
I don't think that I could ever tire
Of being together
Decorate the tree, hang mistletoe
And stand by me
It's a picture perfect moment captured
Memories that we'll have after"

After this it repeats the chorus a few times and fades out.

Clearly this song is extremely positive about Christmas, but what is it specifically that they love about Christmas? In keeping with the separate personas idea fleshed out in the last post, there is no religious content in this song at all, even though a majority of their covers are religious . Based on these lyrics, the reason why Christmas is "the greatest time of year" is your standard: traditions, being with family and friends, everybody being more living and nicer, etc., etc. But what, specifically is their favorite way to spend the holiday? That line still seems to come out of nowhere in the chorus, but I suppose they mean that they love spending the holiday with loving friends. Anyways, the key section of the song is "There's a special kind of feeling in the air/It only happens at this time of year/When everyone is filled with love and cheer/'Cause that's what matters". THIS is what matters, that everybody is filled with love and cheer. And presumably that's what they mean when they say it's the greatest time of year. Notice that they don't mention presents just "pretty paper boxes tied up in bows". So it's just the aesthetic feel of Christmas and the way it makes other people act that they love about the season so much. Listening to this song, you obviously get the idea that they love the Christmas season. The lyrics are maybe a bit hokey and unoriginal, but they seem to be good to me, and the performance totally sells them.

I'm not sure how this song fits into the overall catalogue of Aly & AJ's work. You have 3 basic categories of Aly & AJ songs: the religious (which play into their public persona, and include songs like "Shine" and "Never Far Behind"), the inspirational/positive, but still serious and not fun ("Rush", "No One") and the sad ("I Am One of Them", "Sticks and Stones"). This song and "Chemicals React" are in categories by themselves, seemingly outside their work as a whole. But, this song does, contrary to part 1 of this post, flow directly from their public image and acting work. It's just a fun song, and certainly the type of song you might expect an evangelical Christian to sing. It's not about the religious aspects of Christmas, but it's not about the materialistic aspects of Christmas either. And unlike the majority of "happy Christmas" songs in modern pop the song IS actually about Christmas and not a veiled love song. Great tune, and I think the only genuinely positive, fun, non-religious song in their catalogue. It's an explosion of joy the likes of which they haven't done before [edit: Other than the covers, the likes of which I usually ignore because they don't fit into their work as a whole. But the covers definitely flow from their acting image]. Still don't know how "Chemicals React" fits into all this.

All of which, I think, serves to give "Not This Year" even more punch. I did my analysis of this song in the previous post, but here's a new & more in depth one. First, the lyrics:

"This Christmas card is so contrived
A mannequin looks more alive
Haven't meant a word I've written here
The page is full not one thing sincere

I can't, I can't
I can't, I can't take it
This is the time to smile,
I can't fake it
Please allow me the chance now
To break it down

It's not snow, It's rain coming down
And the lights are cool,
But they burn out
And I can't pull off the cheer
Not this year
Not this year
Not this year
(end chorus)

When I look into the mirror
No happiness is present here
Not supposed to whine,
Not supposed to cry
Try to hold it in, but not this time


Don't know, don't know
If you can hear me
I will, I will
Speak louder for you

No more whispering
Are you listening
I am pleading
I am pleading


Unlike last time, let's assume this song is intended to be written and sung within the context of their other work, and analyze it based on that. This song does have the same slate of writers as "Greatest Time of Year", so this is not an unreasonable. So here we have some fun loving evangelical Christian girls, but with a really strong serious side. We have two girls who love the Christmas season, and everything that it stands for and all of the ways that it makes people feel. It makes people feel happy! and cheerful! and full of love! That's just who they are. But something is different this year....and what is it? Who knows, because it's never said. Maybe they just broke up with their boyfriend, or a family member died or whatever. I like to think it's just end of the year blues. A tough year, frustration and sadness have set in, you don't like the direction your life is headed in, who knows. The point is, this year they aren't feeling it.

And there they are writing Christmas cards, writing your standard platitudes about what a great year it's been, how happy they are, how they hope you have a happy Christmas, when suddenly they realize: I'm not feeling the Christmas cheer! They are just going through the motions and pretending to be happy. And all of this pretending is giving them stress, plus seeing everybody else so happy is just making them spiral further and further into depression. They've hit the breaking point. They're ready to break down and they can't handle putting up a front any more, they just want to scream out and cry. The pre-chorus states this excellently: "I can't, I can't I can't, I can't take it This is the time to smile, I can't fake it Please allow me the chance now To break it down". They just can't keep it up. And they can still appreciate all of the great beauty of Christmas that they sang so joyfully about in "Greatest Time of Year": "And the lights are cool," but they still have the knowledge in them deep inside that after Christmas, after all the joy and the beauty and the peace, they are still back in their misery. They can't put this off forever, and the pain will return: "But they burn out". The knowledge and dread of which can be worse than the actual feeling! This is somebody who desparately WANTS to be caught up in the Christmas season but just can't do it because of the knowledge of the sad things in their life. They are looking in the mirror, trying to salvage any semblance of happiness to exploit upon. Any nugget they can build on.

The real question is, who is this song spoken to. They only break into the "you" one time in the whole song (well three times, but they are all in the same part): "Don't know, don't know If you can hear me I will, I will Speak louder for you No more whispering Are you listening I am pleading I am pleading". This is a heartbreaking part of the song. And I think one of the things that really makes it extra affecting is that despite oblique references throughout the song to people who are forcing them or expecting them to be happy, this is the one time the person is directly referenced. I normally don't like "you" heavy songs, but "Are YOU listening" is just great. But seriously, they've tried pretending and beating around the bush but the "you" just isn't getting it. They need to just scream it out "I'M NOT HAPPY AND REFUSE TO PRETEND TO BE JUST BECAUSE IT'S CHRISTMAS. PRETENDING JUST MAKES IT ALL THAT HARD WHEN I REMEMBER THE SADNESS WILL RETURN POST CHRISTMAS." And I don't interpret the pleading as literal begging, but just the silent desparation that seems to characterize this song. This is somebody who really doesn't want to rock the boat. Who doesn't want to ruin everybody's Christmas by saying that she can't get into this year. It's a quiet pain that she's been suffering, and she's just begging to be let free of it. But she can't just sit down and cry and scream, she just needs to silently beg, through her feelings and actions for her to be let off the hook. So when this part of the song seems to imply there's been some sort of resistance to her sadness at Christmas time, I interpret the resistance as being primarily internal, projected out to whoever is the subject of the song. Because nowhere else in the song is it stated anybody is giving her grief.

So let's return to the question of who "you" is. It's pretty clearly not God, despite the girl's other Christian output, based on the lyrics. At least not by the interpretation that I'm choosing here. This is somebody who is forcing them or pressuring them or otherwise expecting them to be happy at Christmas time. My first thought was their parents, but this kind of rebellion seems unbecoming of Aly & AJ and anyways I don't find that intepretation particularly satisfying. I would like to submit that the "you" is not any one person in particular but is society as a whole and the pro-Christmas season. You can hardly watch TV without seeing a commercial for some saccharine Christmas special, listen to the radio without hearing stations dedicated to Christmas music (we're up to at least 4 stations in Atlanta) or go shopping without seeing Christmas decorations and hearing that sappy Christmas music piped over the store speakers. It's a bombardment of forced joy, the likes of which can magnify any sadness, and which is obviously unstoppable. Society expects you to be happy at Christmas and there's nothing you can do but put up your front until you just completely break down.

This is a song about the self-perpetuating cycle of sadness at Christmas, sung from the perspective of somebody who has a deep love for the holiday. It's an inherently Christmas song, but an inherently human song too. I know I've been there before. Aly & AJ songs can have great lyrics, and this one has the best, but I think that when you view it kaleidoscopically through the lens of all the various contradictions of their public image, it brings a lot more depth to the sadder songs. The sad songs are given an extra punch by the evangelical Christianity, and the fun persona they put on by acting, and the inspirational rah-rah songs. These are people who desparately want to be good role models for kids, and who desparately want to have a good time, but who are also attuned to the sadness in the world. Compared to this song, the other songs I've loved this year seem shallow and silly. It has an amazing, catchy melody, good music, and a GREAT singing performance by the girls. Their performance is what really sells the lyrics. Anybody who thinks that pop music is incapable of the kind of depth that rock and indie can have needs to listen to the recorded output of this band (and Ashlee too of course).

I find myself agreeing with Frank Kogan that these are the best artist of 2006 by far. I was wrong, Aly & AJ ARE great singers, both of them, at least on their recorded output. Still unsure about the live stuff I've heard. Aly & AJ released a grand total of 4 new original songs this year: "Greatest Time of Year", "Not This Year", "Chemicals React", and "Shine". They put out one album which isn't in my top 20 of the year, though it is better than I originally gave it credit for and isn't too far away. But I can't think of anybody else, not even Ashlee or Lindsay in my opinion, who have done more in a 12 month period to demonstrate and legitimize that teen pop can have just as much depth as any other genre of music. And not just hrough their lyrics, but through their acting, their interviews, their overall public image. Like I said, they are a mess of contradictions, but I love them.

And THAT's why "Not This Year" is my favorite song of 2006.

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"Fergalicious" and the "DK Rap"

This post has nothing to do with Christmas, and I will post part 2 of the Aly & AJ post today or tomorrow as promised. But my younger brother Andrew made an observation today that absolutely cannot go unposted. So here, presented without comment is:

This is "Fergalicious" by popular American singer Fergie. As of this writing it is the number 3 song in the country. Pay attention to the opening part, "Listen up y'all..."

This is the "DK Rap" from the video game Donkey Kong 64.



Friday, December 15, 2006

Why "Not This Year" Is My Favorite Song of 2006 (Part 1)

Subtitle: Why Lauren was right and I was wrong.

Day 9 of the TCR Christmas Extravaganza (admittedly, this one is only tangentially related to Christmas and it's gonna be long)

Like I said in the Lohan post, I'm getting bored of writing Christmas album reviews, and I get the distinct impression that you all are getting bored of reading them. So I'm not going to do any more. On the schedule before Christmas is a post or two on some of the original songs from the albums I'm skipping reviewing, a special teen pop Christmas mix CD, and hopefully (if I can come up with any ideas) some non-music content. Then the blog will likely take a break until the new year, when I'll start up with the year-in-review content. More on which later, of course.

Aly & AJ

You know, I've written a lot about Aly & AJ on this blog. I've written a hell of a lot about Alyson Michalka, way more than anybody else (including Kay Panabaker). But yet, I still haven't quite said what I want to say about them, but it's frustrating because I don't really know what I want to say about them. I don't really know what to THINK about them. Anyways, here's a short summary:

On June 5 in the post "Disney Channel Live Action Series - An Overview" I write: "Alyson I think has a really good chance of breaking out to be a star, but she needs to make better decisions as an actress going forward, and it pains me to say it, but just drop the sister thing. She needs to do solo work. I'm excited about their music career based on their first album but unfortunately general pop doesn't really have a huge market now, and I'm not sure what the shelf-life of this is gonna be. I'm abnormally nervous that her career is just gonna crash and burn after Phil but I really really hope that doesn't happen."

On August 28 in the post "Recent Teen Pop: A Non-Comprehensive Guide" I write: "Don't be fooled by their Disney Radio hit cover songs ("Do You Believe In Magic?" and "Walking on Sunshine"), Aly & AJ, in an era of ironic and humorous light-hearted teen pop, probably have the least sense of humor of any of the artists listed here. Take "I Am One of Them", a song about teenage kidnapping, written from the perspective of a kidnapped teen. Probably one of the darkest and most harrowing songs in recent teen pop. But then there's "Rush". This is SUCH A GOOD song, with the explosion in the chorus, and proper uplifting lyrics, quite possibly my favorite song of 2005. It's an absolute classic of teen pop, and some of their other songs are OK too (such as "Chemicals React", "No One", and "Collapsed"), but they really make it mostly on the strength of "Rush". That being said, "Chemicals React" is one of my favorite singles of the year."

On September 11, in the post entitled "Teen Culture: A General Discourse" (which was the first official post of this blog) I write: I'll use Aly Michalka as an example. Aly & AJ have a huge, really rabid fanbase. They absolutely love them. I have to say that, despite my better judgment, I would have to count myself a fan of the group. And it's not all about the music. It's never all about the music, of course, image always sneaks itself into the picture, especially in pop music, and really especially in teen pop music. Aly Michalka is just so warm, so funny, just so downright loveable on Phil of the Future that it's nearly impossible for any POTF watcher to separate out that persona. Dave from Cure For Bedbugs learned this when he made a post that quite correctly pointed out the oddly dark lyrics on the Aly & AJ album. He has been assaulted with e-mails and comments from enraged Aly & AJ fans since. They (and me too!) just associate a certain warmth with Aly the actress that it's impossible to separate from Aly the musician.

On October 4, in my post on the best teenpop songs of the decade, I write: "In all seriousness, I love the inspirational lyrics to this song, the Michalkas have really good singing voices (espeically the one with the low voice, whichever that is), and so catchy! What an apt title this song has, as the rush I get from listening to it (esp. the chorus of course) exceeds maybe any of the other songs on this list. Owes a huge debt to "Everywhere" of course, but it's original enough on its own merits. I also really love the production on this song, especially in the verses. I like their album as well but honestly though there are other good songs, there's nothing else the girls have recorded that really approaches this. Mild bonus for having no connection to Cow Belles whatsoever. Am I rating it too high because I love Aly in Phil of the Future so much? It's possible, but I really did try to separate that stuff out."

On October 12, I write: "Alyson Michalka is a great actress, but a robotic singer. AJ Michalka is a terrible actress but a great singer. So together they are great at both!"

On October 15, I do a long review of the Aly & AJ Christmas album entitled, imaginatively, "Album Review: Aly & AJ - Acoustic Hearts of Winter". Lots of A&A content in there of course, but in particular I write: "It's hard to say what I think about this album. Two excellent originals surrounding a bunch of mediocre cover songs. Much as I love "Greatest Time of Year" and "Not This Year", I'd say to save your money and buy one of those Very Special Christmas albums from the bargain bins, for a better value. Into the Rush was, I think, underrated, but Aly & AJ are in serious danger of becoming a chronic "singles band". THUMBS DOWN."

Finally, my most recent reference to Aly & AJ is on November 25, when I write: "I will say that "Sweet Temptation (Hollow)", "Don't Cry Your Heart Out", and "Not This Year" are my only 10/10 songs of the year, and that "Not This Year" would seriously contend for number 1 if it were included. A good year for singles, far better than last year in any event."

[Emphasis was added by me now and doesn't appear in the original posts. This leaves out a few immaterial references to Aly & AJ and Alyson Michalka in some other posts.]

Yeah, that's a lot of stuff. TCR reader Lauren calls me out on my Acoustic Hearts of Winter review in my comments: "I think their goal was to show off their pretty voices and guitar skills. You get exactly what you pay for with Acoustic Hearts of Winter. These songs weren't meant to released as singles; it's just a holdover under their next album is released. Fans of Aly and AJ will just like to hear their voices singing Christmas tunes, so it's worth the money if you enjoy their sound."

She also says, in a different comment: "I don't see how Alyson is robotic, unless you're referring to her more limited range than AJ's."

Mea Culpa: First of all Aly's singing is definitely not robotic. I don't know why I wrote that. What I meant to say, was that she seems way more comfortable acting than singing, based on what I've seen from her on Phil of the Future and some of their live performances on YouTube. Second, I've heard a LOT of modern pop Christmas albums since I listened to this Aly & AJ one, and I can say that Acoustic Hearts of Winter is one of the best of them. Lauren's right, you're getting what you pay for out of this, and if you want a pop Christmas album, this is one of the least offensive suggestions for you. The originals are amazing and some of the covers (especially "I'll Be Home for Christmas") are among the best of the covers I've heard during this exercise. So, yes, Lauren was right and I am wrong. Good work Lauren, and I hope you and all my readers continue to call me out on my sloppy prose, if appropriate.

Now to get to the main body of the post. Reading through the posts in chronological order, I think you get a pretty good idea of my historical relationship with Aly & AJ and their music. I liked "Rush" right from the get go, but I immediately fought against liking Aly & AJ. Ultimately, I came to accept liking them more and more, until I stated that "Not This Year" was a contender for the best song of the year. (But still ranked it below "Sweet Temptation" at the time). I always knew that liking Alyson Michalka from Phil of the Future before I even knew of Aly & AJ gave me a different perspective on the band than others who just know their music have. I knew that, but tried to fight against it, trying to be an OBJECTIVE MUSIC CRITIC. That's the story you get from the writing above. And with all that, I still haven't written what I want to say about them. There's no band in 2006 that has made me think half as much as this band has.

There are three components to Aly & AJ's image: There are their lyrics, which are generally serious, either sad or happy, but never fun; there is their evangelical Christian, home-schooled, creationist, etc. image they portray in interviews and seem to be in real life; and there is the cute, fun loving, light-hearted image from their TV appearances. This third aspect to Aly & AJ is an important one that I think people who don't get to see them on TV may be missing. And it's why it is silly for me to try to separate out the music from the TV, because their music is made IN THE CONTEXT of their other two images.

So I have to respectfully disagree with Cure for Bedbugs (and with myself, because I repeated the sentiment a few times above). Aly & AJ are not any more serious, or more sad, or less fun than any other teen pop act out right now. They have a serious side, and they have a very fun and lighthearted side. But the fun and lighthearted side has yet to be reflected in the music. There's no reason for it to be, because they know that kids follow the entire careers of people they love. So most of the kids who are listening to Aly & AJ (and to be honest, that IS the target audience) have seen Phil of the Future and they've seen Cow Belles and whatnot. That's the outlet for their fun side. So viewed from the lens of the entire spectrum of their careers, they have the complete package in their image, of the serious and the fun. Which is why the A&A fans get all up in arms when people say they are too serious, because the music doesn't provide the full picture.

Not that this has or necessarily should have any relevance to criticism of their music specifically. But, this is what makes Aly & AJ really genius and what really separates them from their Disney brethren. In one of the earlier posts (and I didn't quote it because it was too embarrassing), I said what a lot of people have said, that what separates them from their Disney brethren is that they have actual talent: They cowrite their songs, are good singers, play guitar, etc. Eek, the legitimacy argument. But here's what really separates them. If you look at Hilary the singer, Hilary the actress, Hilary the public figure, they have taken great pains to make sure that all gibe with each other. They all represent individually the complete image of Hilary Duff. If you only know her for her music, or only know her for her acting, it's no different, you will get the same impression with her either way. Same with Hannah Montana, all 3 images flow right from each other. The one exception is Lindsay Lohan, who is similar to Aly & AJ in this respect, only not as extreme. And is Dave's EMP proposal trying to say that there IS one cohesive public image to Lohan, reflected in her music and public life? Maybe. But the difference with A&A is NIGHT AND DAY. If you only know Into the Rush or you only know the acting, you have a completely different perspective on them. Which is how, I think, Aly & AJ's image has been intentionally set up. Aly & AJ the singers, Aly & AJ the actresses, and Aly & AJ the public figures cannot and should not be taken apart and viewed and analyzed separately. Because you are missing a significant piece of the pie either way! But yet, they need to be viewed and analyzed separately, because each of the three have no relation at all to the others, and I think that's by design. But kids are obsessive, and by watching and following all 3, only then do you get an idea of the image that Aly & AJ are really trying to put forth. Like I said, I'm not sure what to think about them.

So yes, Aly & AJ are all about contrasts and contradictions. You've got fun and not fun. Super Christian, and just a normal teen wanting a boy. Nervous and uncomfortable, and completely confident in who they are and what they are doing. Deeply thoughtful, and just ready to party. Inspirational, and yet telling kids it's OK to be unhappy & sad. Joyful and sad. In some senses all 3 aspects of their careers are completely unconnected, and in other senses they are intimately connected. And that's how they want to be. So who are they anyways? I have no idea, they are complete enigmas, and that's what fascinates me about them so much. So how does this realization impact my thoughts/analysis on Acoustic Hearts of Winter and "Not This Year" in particular? I'm saving that for part 2, which will be posted later today or tomorrow.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Christmas Episodes: Phil of the Future - Christmas Break

Day 8 of the TCR Christmas Extravaganza

Ever since I first saw an episode of Phil of the Future, which was just in February of this year, it has been one of my favorite tween shows on television. I've now seen the entire run of the series, mostly multiple times over, thanks to constant repeats on the Disney Channel. And I have to say that it remains one of my all time favorites. While I unsurprisingly prefer the first season (when it had Kay Panabaker) the second season was still great TV. With that in mind here's a quickie review of one of the episodes in that second season, "Christmas Break".

The Show: Phil of the Future

The Episode: "Christmas Break"
Year of Production: 2005
Episode Number: 36 of 43

Brief Series Summary, For the Totally Clueless: Disney Channel's hit series, Phil of the Future, tells the story of the Diffy family, a futuristic family from the year 2121. When the eccentric dad, Lloyd, rents a time machine for their family vacation, everyone is excited. But then something goes wrong. Their time machine malfunctions and they are thrown out of the space/time continuim in the year 2004. The time machine has broken, and Lloyd is having trouble fixing it, so he, his part-robotic wife Barbara, and his kids: fifteen-year-old Phil Diffy (Ricky Ullman) and his thirteen-year-old daughter Pim, the little menace of the family, are forced to live in the past and pretend to be a normal family in the suburban town of Pickford. The only person who knows their secret is Keely Teslow, Phil's best friend. Together they deal with the things that every teenager in 2004 must deal with: school, bullies, significant others, crushes, homework...and then add the Diffys' habit of getting into trouble by using their futuristic gadgets, such as the Wizrd, the Insta-Morph, Skyaks, the DNA Scramber, and much more. [Attribution to]

Episode Summary [Contains Spoilers, As Such!]: The episode opens with Keely Telsow (Aly Michalka) visiting the Diffys in order to help them trim the tree. After some lighthearted humor, it ultimately slips out that Phil knew that Keely was at one time the Pickford Yuletide Star Princess. But Phil didn't know Keely at that time, so how could he know that? Phil ends up telling the story of how he first met Keely (unbeknownst to her). [flashback]. The Diffys arrive via time machine in the year 2003. They talk a bit about how the kids can go out and explore the area for a while (they want to go shopping at a mall). Opening credits. When the opening credits end, we pick up the story of the Diffys in early 2003. They flip a coin to decide which mall to go to, but the coin slips away from Lloyd Diffy's hand and Keely finds it. The kids have to retrieve it because it is made of a futuristic metal that doesn't exist yet, and they don't want to disrupt the time line. Back in the Diffy's living room, Lloyd (Phil's dad) interrupts the story to start telling about how they bought their house. Lloyd and Barb have stayed behind while their kids retrieve the coin (lazy!) Then, since Barb really wants to see the house, they notice the house is for sale and pose as buyers to get a chance to tour the house. Back to the Diffy's living room, where Phil takes the conversation back over. Phil and Pim follow Keely to HG Wells High. Some exposition from Keely explains that she is the Pickford Yuletide Star Princess and is therefore solely responsible for keeping the antique star safe until the tree lighting ceremony (doesn't really make any sense but whatever). When Keely is distracted, Phil grabs the coin, but Pim steals the star too. Phil tries to make her give it back, but in the struggle, the star is dropped and broken. Phil feels pretty bad, so gets the idea to use the time machine to go back in time and save the star. We cut back into Lloyd's story. Lloyd and Barb continue to look around, and there's a bunch of "The Diffys are from the future" related humor that is mostly lame. What follows next is a lengthy and rather clever montage where Phil and Pim repeatedly go back in time to save the star, only to have it break in a different way. Ultimately Phil is able to save it. Lloyd cuts back to his story. It turns out that the exhaust from time engines are pure, flawless diamonds. Worthless in the future but obviously extremely valuable now. He trades a few handfuls of diamonds for the house (intended to be used as a vacation house). Phil and Pim meet back up with them and they decide to go back to the future, but the time machine is broken! Since they have to stick around anyways, they decide to go to the lighting ceremony because Phil wants to see Keely light the tree. There's a rather cute scene where Keely gives a touching speech and then places the star as they all watch on.

Cut back to the present in the Diffys living room. A little bit of light humor ensues. Some touching Phil/Keely stuff. Then, Pim places the star on the tree and they all sing Christmas carol from the future.

Greg's Review/Comments: Unlike most Christmas episodes, such as the Lizzie one, there are no grand Christmas lessons learned. Nobody learns that the true meaning of Christmas is helping people, there's no religious content spewed, no Santa content, nothing about giving or receiving presents, nothing like that at all. In fact, this episode deftly avoids all the Christmas cliches while still being very heartwarming and giving a positive pro-charity message for the Christmas season. One could argue, and could argue validly, that for a so-called "Christmas episode" there is very little Christmas content at all. The object they are saving for Keely is a "Christmas star" but it could just as well be any other valuable, breakable object and the episode would not be changed at all. Nevertheless, I'm glad this episode handled the Christmas stuff in the way it did, with it in the backdrop, rather than providing the impetus for the on screen action. In addition, rather than being a stand-alone, throwaway episode, this is a vital episode to the overall plot of the series. Most Christmas episodes are intended to stand by themselves, but this one tells the story of how the Diffys first came to 2003, and how Phil first met Keely (stuff you would think they would have gone over in the pilot, but whatever). I'm not sure how I feel about that, but it's certainly something. And once again, though it's never explicitly stated I think the episodes message is an inherently Christmas-y one. That being the joy of charity and helping others out at the expense of yourself. Although a majority of the episode, like a majority of most Phil of the Future episodes, was spent developing the Phil/Keely relationship, that message does shine through, at least to me.

This episode, in fact, highlights a lot of the best aspects of Phil of the Future. First, there's the originality and avoidance of cliches, as cited above. The humor, particularly in the scenes involving Aly Michalka, is often genuinely funny. (Keely: "Oh no, I broke the Christmas star!" Mr. Hackett: "Yes you did. I'd hate to be the one in your size 8 sparkle pumps come the Christmas pageant"). The problem with providing quotes is that what makes the jokes funny is not the quality of the jokes themselves but the delivery and performance of the cast. Aly Michalka continues to repeat that she prefers singing to acting but I refuse to believe that's true. She's just so natural and amazing in front of the camera, and seems so comparatively nervous singing on the stage, that I really hope she continues acting. Which highlights another of the best parts of the series, which is the outstanding acting for a Disney series. The entire cast are gifted comedic actors, with not a weak link in there. But Ricky Ullman and Aly Michalka also have amazing chemistry, and they are very capable of handling the dramatic scenes as well. I've said it before, but I think people thought I was joking: Phil and Keely go together so well on the screen, and the friendship is portrayed so well, that there are literally hundreds of fan-made montages of touching scenes with them together set to pop music on YouTube. This speaks, I think, to how well-crafted the relationship was. And as this is obviously a key episode in the development of their relationship, their on-screen chemistry really helps out matters here. A lot of the humor still doesn't work (especially the humor based on the Diffys being from the future), but the episodes are always fun, and I can always appreciate them for what does work. Not only all of the above, but even for a Christmas episode, the plot is exceptionally cute. And Keely's speech at the end had me way more emotionally affected than anything in "Xtreme Xmas" or Santa Baby could even dream of getting me.

Then again, the episode also highlights the number one problem with Phil of the Future: the mind numbing monotony of the Phil/Keely relationship. Listen, I'm a "Pheely" fan as much as anybody. When Phil and Keely got together in "Back to the Future" I thought it was pretty much the cutest thing ever. Then, when they finally kissed at the end it made me want to get up and cheer. That doesn't change the fact that every episode covers the exact same ground in their relationship from about the 5th episode all the way up to the last one. Phil and Keely are perfect for each other, they are good friends, they love each other but won't get together. It gets extremely tiresome when every episode in the entire run of the series is built around that. At a certain point it started to go on way too long, and as this episode came towards the end of the show's run, it was definitely in the part of the series where the relationship was dragging.

Final Rating: Despite the lack of Kay Panabaker, excellent performances, funny comedy, and a really cute plot make this one of the best episodes in the entire run of Phil of the Future. In all honesty, this is probably my favorite episode from the second season, barring the series finale "Back to the Future" (which made me almost embarrassingly emotional) ("The Giggle" was good too). 9/10. ("I liked it because it was cute")

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Monday, December 11, 2006

Listening Diary: Ali Lohan - Lohan Holiday

Day 7 of the TCR Christmas Extravaganza

I'm getting a bit bored with writing Christmas album reviews, since they are all so crushingly similar. I can only imagine that my readership is therefore getting bored with reading Christmas album reviews. So I thought I'd try something new for this album (and in case you aren't keen on reading the titles to posts, "this album" is Lohan Holiday by Ali Lohan). As I listen to this album for the first time, I'm gonna jot my thoughts down, song by song, and then I'll transcribe them into the blog. That way it will catalogue my thoughts on the album in real-time, as they happen! I know literally nothing about this album, except that it exists and it's by Lindsay Lohan's younger sister and it was released this year. I haven't read anything by anybody who has heard the album, I don't know of anybody who has listened to the album, and I have absolutely no idea what the album sounds like or even what genre it's in. I've never heard Ali Lohan sing. So therefore I am going in with a completely open mind. No idea what to expect here, but I do like Lohan the elder's music, and we all know I have a soft spot for Christmas songs, so I have high hopes. Let's get this started. I want to stress: I have only heard these songs once! My initial impressions of songs sometimes change (but usually for the worse).

1. "Christmas Day"
Starts out with pleasant electric guitar riff and electronically modified vocals. Wow, Ali Lohan has a tiny, tiny voice. What the hell is with the production on this song, it sounds like a Casio preset and the music is drowning out the voice. Wow, I've heard Wesley Willis songs with more complex musical backdrops than this. Fairly nice melody, but this song is like a wisp, barely even there. The melody at the beginning of this chorus reminds me of "All I Want For Christmas Is You" for some reason. The "make my wish come true" part in particular. Lyrics are pleasantly Christmas-y. This is not a good start.

2. "I Like Christmas"
Hey this song also starts out with a pleasant electric guitar riff. OK either the volume levels on my computer are screwed up, I got a bad rip from ITunes, or the vocals on this album are mixed incredibly low. Decent buildup in the chorus, but man does the melody fall flat. This song is better than the last song, no Casio preset keyboards. This song has quite possibly the most inane lyrics I've ever heard in a major label release though, it's almost embarrassing to listen to.
Note the main hook in the chorus reads: "I like Christmas fun like a ride in a one horse open sleigh/I like Christmas fa la la la la all the way (hey)".

3. "Winter Wonderland"
No electric guitar riff. Classic bubblegum production to start out. They've slightly varied the melody on this cover, interesting. Ali is a really bad singer, it's starting to bug me. At about 1:30 is the most boring musical interlude I've heard on one of these albums yet. Ooh, this one is going on for at least a minute too long. Wow, most repetitive outro ever. Maintains an dreamy feeling throughout, Ali's completely personality-less voice actually helps the overall feel of the song here. Production is simple but catchy. Despite all above, this is not a bad cover at all. Maybe the rest of the album will be listenable.

4. "Christmas Magic"
I read on Wikipedia that this was the album's first single. Starts out with an interesting instrumental riff. Relatively heavy on the bass. This song has good verses, I'm praying the chorus pays off. Ouch, it does not. This song is nearly hookless. The main meldoy to this song is sung by a bunch of background singers. Wise decision. I just checked to see if the song was about over, and it's less than halfway through. Ali Lohan's voice has so little character and personality that it's continually shocking to me. I mean, Hilary Duff is a "bad" singer but she at least has character to her voice. Ali may as well be talking here. Whoops, I just fell asleep. There is no possible justification for this song being four minutes long. Jesus, this song was horrible. [After the fact add by Greg: listen for yourself].

5. "Jingle Bells"
Awesome, starts out with sweet U2 style guitars! This song has a good instrumental intro. Too bad it's still "Jingle Bells" the most boring Christmas song ever. Why do all the teen stars feel the need to cover this song. I like the production on this. I'm curious if this song has a different producer than the previous, because it's way, way more busy than the previous songs. There's more musical content in the instrumentation to this song than in the prior 4 combined. This is way better than the B2K version. This has been the best song on the album yet (not much competition).

6. "Groove of Christmas"
Starts out with a mildly groovy beat, I approve. Going for an R&B style song on this, and I'm really not feeling it so far, maybe it'll pick up. Once again the main melody of this song in the chorus is being sung by the backup singers. Horrible production on this song too. The "horn" parts are hurting my ears. I again have to wonder if this song was produced on a Casio. Ha, robot like vocal manipulations on this song. Apparently the way to make a mediocre melody memorable is to repeat it 50 times in the song. Every one of these songs so far has done it. This is probably the worst song I've heard all year.

7. "Lohan Holiday" (featuring Lindsay Lohan)
This song has a kickass title. Ooh sounds like this is gonna be the album's big ballad. Ali's singing is still bad, and the lyrics are ridiculous, but this is BY FAR the best original song on the album so far. "Let me take you on a Lohan holiday" is the only catchy melody in any of these songs yet. Good work, Lohan. Production is again very simple, but on a big ballad like this, that's hardly important. Not a great song, but it's got an actually CATCHY CHORUS, though the verses and production are both pretty boring and Ali is still a bad singer. Melody, what an amazing concept. I wonder whether I'm just liking this by comparison to the previous or if it's actually good. This is the first song yet that I might actually listen to after this is over. I do wonder how a "Lohan Holiday" differs from the regular variety. Anyways, compared to the rest, this is the f'n Beatles. Worth checking out anyways. Took me by surprise.

8. "Deck The Halls"
God, behind "Jingle Bell Rock" this is my least favorite Christmas song ever. Early returns are that this song isn't gonna redeem it. Like Hilary Duff, you can really hear the thinness of Ali's voice when she goes for a high note. Oh God, this thing is gonna go on for 4:30. I have nothing to say about this song because it's been so boring and unremarkable. They aren't doing ANYTHING with this song, it's rote repetition. This is kind of like the version my dad does at the neighborhood Christmas party. I'd love to hear the person responsible for this song explain it's length.

9. "Silent Night" (Reading - Dina Lohan)
The title to this song intrigues me. What will Dina Lohan be reading? Oh goddd, I can't stand the suspense. Wow they are really changing up the melody of this song. Not an idea I'm inherently opposed to, but it's not really working here, I don't think. Despite the slight variation in melody, still a very boring version. Nothing going on in the production at all. Way more upbeat that I thought it was gonna be. Dina started reading! She's reading from the Bible. Isn't this song supposed to be pretty? Why in the world are they doing it so upbeat?

10. "Santa's Reindeer Ride" (featuring Amy Grant)
Whoa, how the heck did they get Amy Grant to do this? This is Santa's first appearance on this album. The melody to this song seems extremely familiar but I'm having trouble placing it. Wow, Amy Grant is a good singer. I had almost forgotten what good singing sounds like. I hate to keep repeating myself, but this song totally sucks ass. Once again there's nothing to this song at all. Wait I just realized that the reason it sounds familiar is that it is originally by Amy Grant. The original was way better. Do I have to turn in my music fan card if I admit that I like some of Amy Grant's early recordings a lot? I would do a (rave) review of her Home for Christmas album on this blog if there was anyways I could justify it as "teen pop". "Breath of Heaven (Mary's Song)" is seriously one of my favorite Christmas songs. Oh well. I've written nothing about this song but that's because it's so boring. [After the fact add by Greg: A quote from this article clears up the whole thing - Ali's vocals were digitally added to the critically acclaimed singer Amy Grant's song, "Santa's Reindeer Ride," originally recorded by Grant as a teenager at the start of her career.]

11. "We Wish You a Merry Christmas"
Really upbeat opening riff to start this. Going with background singers on the main melody again, it sounds like. This album has the worst selection of traditional cover songs ever, even worse than B2K. The spoken word interludes in this song are ridiculous. Wait, this isn't an interlude, it's the entire song. Is this even a song? It kind of sounds like a choir singing a simple melodic line a couple times, then really simple production repeating over and over again while boring people say boring things. Why the hell does this exist? I'm so glad I decided to review the album in this way, because if I was doing a real review it might mean I would have to listen to these songs again.

12. "I Like Christmas (Remix)"
Well by now I've pretty much forgotten what the original mix to this song sounded like. It was pretty unmemorable. The electric guitar has more edge to it this time than last time around, I'm thinking. OK it's pretty easy to tell how this is different from the original. Didn't the original have verses and lyrics? Whereas this is 5:30 of the SAME GODDAMN GUITAR RIFF repeating over and over and over again. This song is making me laugh out loud. Wow, it's horrible.

Final Verdict on the First Time Through: Aside from "Lohan Holiday" & to a certain extent "Jingle Bells" this is the worst album I've heard all year. Not impossibly the worst album of all time. 0/10.

Late Edit By Greg: Listen to "Lohan Holiday" here, though not the best sound quality.

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Sunday, December 10, 2006

TV Movie Review: Santa Baby

Day 6 of the TCR Christmas Extravaganza

This just premiered on the ABC Family channel tonight. And, OK, maybe it's not "teen" per se, at least not in the way I've set up my blog, more "family" actually. But, I think it's relevant enough to include, and anyways I try not to be too rigid as to the theme of the blog.

The Movie: Santa Baby
Airing On: ABC Family
In the Year: 2006
Starring: Jenny McCarthy, Kandyse McClure, Ivan Sergei, plus George Wendt as Santa Claus

Plot Summary (With Spoilers): Mary Class is a very successful consultant who runs her own practice, going in to failing companies and suggesting ways that they can improve to save their company. As we open, we see Mary giving a speech to the board of directors of a department store, suggesting they change their entire image and marketing campaign, and even name, to Spotlight. She is then called up to visit her family, as her father has had a heart attack. She quickly makes arrangements to get up there, along with her trusty assistant Donna. When they get to Mary's home, it doesn't take Donna long to realize that Mary's father is Santa Claus! And since Santa is so sick, Mary is going to have to take over the family practice this year! Mary is, perhaps surprisingly, not upset or distressed by this, but actually thrilled. She has often had various ideas to improve productivity around Christmas time, to get the list checked faster, get the mail read and processed faster, build the toys faster, etc. Citing tradition, Santa has always rejected these suggestions, so she is extremely excited to see them in action to prove that they will work! She is pleased to see that they are making things go faster, although Santa is still unhappy that the tradition is being destroyed.

Also living at the North Pole is Luke, Mary's old boyfriend who she totally ditched out in the cold when she decided to move away and get into business. Luke is clearly still in love with Mary, although she has a boyfriend back home, Grant. Grant ultimately finds out where Mary is staying and comes over to visit her unannounced, thus discovering her secret as well. Things start to go very downhill shortly after this. It turns out the productivity improving measures aren't working nearly as well as she thought they would, and in fact the toys might not even all be ready by Christmas. Plus Grant has a crazy idea to install a mall right next to Santa's workshop to build business. Mary and the other Claus's are distressed to hear this, as this would bring people to the previously secret location of Santa's workshop, which could mess up everything. Mary breaks up with Grant, but he goes back to pitch the idea anyways, hauling along pictures of Santa's workshop to prove the encounter. In the end, Santa pitches in to help all the toys get built, Mary thwarts Grant's plan to build the mall, and discredits him in the process, and Mary delivers all the toys on Christmas without a hitch. Mary gets the real Christmas spirit in her heart, and realizes there is more to Christmas than ruthless cold efficiency.

And They All Learned A Valuable Lesson: Business people get to be successful by being CRUEL, COLD, and HEARTLESS people. Values which are totally counter to the Christmas spirit. Christmas is about LOVE and TRADITION and COMPROMISE. Screw business.

Greg's Review/Comments: Santa Baby was such a stunningly bad movie, in every way, that it's kind of hard for me to make any comments on it at all. Many reviewers relish in writing reviews of things they hated, hilariously skewering all of the aspects of it. For a lot of reviewers, like say Ebert, this is one of their hallmarks that their readers love and look forward to. I am not one of those reviewers. My only mode of review is "serious, thoughtful" which a movie like this totally destroys. Nonetheless in the spirit of Christmas and ruthless, cold efficiency, I will continue.

Problems Greg Had With Santa Baby (No Order):

1) The plot was hackneyed and unoriginal. Santa is injured and somebody unprepared must fill in, oh no! Exploring Santa's family, interesting. This movie was amalgamated together from the parts of several other, superior Christmas movies (at this point, even The Santa Clause is superior).

2) The movie once again reinforces the offensive to me notion that business is evil and that all successful businessmen are cold and evil people.

3) The dialogue is horrible, and horribly unrealistic. The characters are all one-dimensional stereotypes, with a maximum of one character trait apiece.

3) The acting, while not as bad as I thought it would be, was not good either. All of the actors did what they could with their roles I guess, but none of the actors rise above the material. Jenny McCarthy was not as bad as I might have thoguht she would be, but she is incapable of dealing with the simplicity of the script and character. She is not cute and charming enough to carry this role.

4) The romantic leads, Jenny McCarthy and Ivan Sergei, have no chemistry and their relationship is not believable. Their relationship was a throw in to the movie, it never feels real, and it was never even something I was really rooting for. And I root for almost all love stories in movies!

5) The jokes aren't funny and the elves, as comic relief, are way too silly to generate real humor. Maybe funny to the kids, who I guess this movie is marketed too, but not to the parents. I would probably be able to handle all of the above if the comedy in the movie was actually good, but I didn't laugh once even though there are hundreds of jokes in the film.

6) There was no emotional core to the movie. Once again, I am an enormously huge sucker for Christmas movies. The ending to Scrooged gets a lump in my throat every time, and I've seen that movie at least 10 times. But I will tell you, my heart was not warmed after viewing this movie. The movie spends way too much time on the lame comedy and non-starter romantic story, and not enough time building up the touching Christmas turnaround. When Jenny McCarthy finally does embrace the Christmas spirit, it's so abrupt, and handled in such an understated way by the movie I felt almost nothing. If there's any type of movie where it's OK to go a bit over the top, it's a Christmas movie! Come on, ABC Family.

Final Rating: I didn't expect it to be great, but I really had no way of knowing it would be this bad. Definitely one to skip this Christmas season. 1/10.

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Christmas Episodes: Lizzie McGuire - Xtreme Xmas

Day 5 of the TCR Christmas Extravaganza

TCR readers, you can look forward to the following Christmas Extravanganza content between now and the big day: Album reviews of Christmas albums by The Cheetah Girls, Girls Aloud, Mariah Carey, Hanson, and Clay Aiken; a review of the Phil of the Future Christmas episode; a review of one of the ABC Family original Christmas movies; a review of some undecided upon children's special, and hopefully more. There's still plenty of room in there for requests, so please leave a comment or email if you have one.

In today's installment, I will do a review of the Christmas episode of Lizzie McGuire, which is for whatever reason entitled "Xtreme Xmas". Occurring late into the run of the series, it's an odd little episode, but yet an amusing one nonetheless. I really love Lizzie and it basically came down to a coinflip as to whether it was this show or Even Stevens which I put in the TCR Hall of Fame. Obviously Even Stevens won out (mostly due to Lizzie's rather weak start), but I still consider both of those shows, plus Phil of the Future, to be a pretty clear cut above all the other shows the Disney Channel has produced. Plus I haven't really written anything about Lizzie on this blog so this will start to rectify that.

The Show: Lizzie McGuire
The Episode: "Xtreme Xmas"
Year of Production: 2002
Episode Number: 51 of 65
Key Guest Stars: Steven Tyler as Santa Claus, and playing Kate's eeeeevil cousin Amy is...

That's right, eagle-eyed readers, it's Hilary Duff's older, inferior model, sister Haylie Duff. Haylie appears as Kate's even more stuck up cousin Amy in a few episodes. Her role in this episode is extremely brief, and frankly rather pointless, but she does a decent job with what she has. Gee, Kate's cousin sure does look an awful lot like Lizzie. Odd. Also odd is that it kind of looks like Kate is about to cry in this screencap when actually she's delivering yet another of her charming witticisms.

Brief Series Summary, For the Totally Clueless: "Get inside her head!" say the advertisements and you can do that when you watch this Disney Channel family comedy, the most successful of their "Zoog Weekendz" shows. It's all about the ordinary and not-so-ordinary adventures of a junior high student [Lizzie] and her two best friends [Gordo and Miranda] as they try to deal with the ups and downs of school, popularity [In particular, the EVIL popular girl Kate, Lizzie's archrival. As pictured above next to Haylie], boys, parents, a bratty little brother [Matt]--just life in general. And if Lizzie leaves anything unsaid, you can bet that her cartoon alter ego will say it for her! [Attribution to, with extra information in bold added by me.]

Episode Summary [Contains Spoilers, As Such!]: The episode begins with Lizzie and Gordo meeting in line to meet Santa Claus. In this activity, apparently, students are encouraged to give away old toys for less fortunate kids during Christmas. Nice idea. Anyways, Lizzie is there to give out the old toys, and she and Gordo are discussing the Christmas parade float competition. The winner of the competition wins a ski trip, and Lizzie really wants to win! [Opening Credits]. After the opening credits, we are viewing Lizzie and Gordo in some sort of garage building their float. The theme for her float is going to be "Rock & Roll Christmas", and there's some cute comedy as they have float related conversations with Larry and Kate. Anyways, the Christmas action really heats up when Lizzie and Gordo then meet Knobby, who claims to be one of Santa's elves (Elf owes this royalties!) Knobby seems odd, but harmless. The whole McGuire family then comes to meet up with Lizzie and ends up meeting and ultimately hanging out with Knobby. Lizzie is upset that her family would rather hang out with Knobby than help with her float. We cut to the McGuire house, where an exasperated Lizzie learns that the plumbing at Knobby's retirement home is busted, so he will have to stay with the McGuires for a few days [good work Ma and Pa Mcguire, for all you know this guy is a serial killer]. Some weird scenes follow where the family hangs out with Knobby. Ultimately, Mr. McGuire gets the idea to help out trying to fix Knobby's plumbing himself, as the plumbing company can't fix it due to people being on vacation. So the whole family sans Lizzie, and Gordo too, pitch in to fix the plumbing. Lizzie is left trying to make her float on her own, and is really upset. She collapses and falls asleep in exhaustion. But she's met by Knobby in her dream! Knobby shows her the true meaning of sequence, in possibly the weirdest Lizzie McGuire sequence I've ever seen. She first meets with the "Ghost of Christmas Past" (her mom) who partakes in some "hilarious" comedy, and then just flat out tells Lizzie that she has lost sight of the true meaning in Christmas because she was too wrapped up in the float. Uh, what? Why did they get the Ghost of Christmas Past to tell her that? It's something that's happening right now! Then they get Matt McGuire to tell her the "true meaning" of Christmas, in a humorous parody of the famous Peanuts Christmas Special moment. Lizzie realizes that the true meaning of Christmas is helping people, so she decides to help her family fix the plumbing. At the end, Santa (Steven Tyler) magically builds Lizzie's float at the last second and everybody loves it. It was the best Christmas ever. The episode ends with Steven Tyler singing "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town".

And They All Learned a Valuable Lesson: The true meaning of Christmas is helping people, not building badass floats to burn your social rivals! Though it undermines its own message by having Lizzie get a badass float that burns her social rival anyways. So, you should help people out, because if you do, you'll just get whatever you selfishly wanted anyways.

Greg's Review/Comments: First comment is that, like a lot of the later Lizzie episodes, Miranda does not appear in this episode at all. I'm not sure what happens here, but I liked Lalaine as Miranda a lot, and her absence was a big flaw with the show towards the end of its run. One of the reasons I consistently rank this show below Even Stevens is that it was weak at the beginning and end. At the beginning because Hilary's acting was rocky to start with, and and the end because of the lack of Miranda, who really did contribute a lot to the show. Despite that flaw, this manages to be a very cute and fun episode. Some of the jokes I found funny, particularly the parts where Lizzie is interacting with Gordo and her other classmates (Tudgeman, Kate, etc.). In actuality, the jokes are primarily based on pop culture references, and as is par for the course on this show, are very hit or miss. That being said, this was definitely one of the odder Lizzie episodes I've yet seen.

The character of Knobby in particular, was very odd. He claims to be an elf, but yet dresses in normal clothing! In addition, the fact that he claims he is an elf is pretty much irrelevant to the episode. He's basically just a random old man. But yet everybody trusts and loves them from the moment he meets them! The McGuires invite them into their home! They agree to fix the plumbing to his retirement home even though they have no formal training as plumbers. OK, that part of the episode is extremely unrealistic. I wish they had thought of a different way for Lizzie to learn the simple joys of helping out her fellow man, by having her whole family work together to help on something that was at least slightly realistic.

Anyways, this episode ultimately succeeds on the merits of everything that makes the show succeed in general. Hilary Duff as Lizzie became excellent at the role by the time of the end of the series, she was expressing her emotions great, and you could really relate to her. Her interactions with her classmates can sometimes be genuinely funny, and anyways, even if they aren't funny, the show does a great job of getting you emotionally involved in them. Hell, I felt frustrated for Lizzie when nobody would help her build the float, even though the show was depicting her as selfish. Like always, the non-Lizzie scenes tend to drag, and this episode is much less centric on Lizzie and her school drama than most Lizzie McGuire episodes are. For that reason, it doesn't rank as one of the top episodes in the series run. But then again, a common complaint about the show, that it was highly repetitive and unoriginal throughout its run, definitely does not apply here. Additionally, this show's top notch supporting cast was either not in the episode at all (Lalaine) or in the episode for so little time as to practically add no value (Ashley Brillault, always excellent as Kate).

Final Rating: Not the best episode of Lizzie but a fun watch if you are a fan of the series. This episode was a good microcosm for the problems I had with the series towards the end of its run. Namely, too little Miranda, too little Kate, too much Tudgeman, and too much of the McGuire family other than Lizzie. Like most Christmas episodes of long running series, this episode is basically designed to be a stand-alone. No reference is made to any long running plots on the show, and no real prior knowledge of the show is needed for watching. 7.5/10. Also, why in the world is this episode called "Xtreme Xmas"? There's nothing remotely extreme about it. Odd.

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