Monday, December 04, 2006

Album Review: Christina Aguilera - My Kind of Christmas

Day 3 of the TCR Christmas Extravaganza:

Let's not hold up the Hilary Duff review as a standard for the level of detail and analysis for all subsequent reviews. These later reviews will likely be a lot shorter, because the albums aren't generally as interesting as Santa Claus Lane.

The Vitals

The Album: My Kind of Christmas
The Artist: Christina Aguilera
Year Released: 2000
Length: 44:45
The Covers: "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas", "Angels We Have Heard on High", "Merry Christmas, Baby", "Oh Holy Night", "These Are the Special Times", "This Christmas", "The Christmas Song", "The Christmas Song (Holiday Remix)"
The Originals: "Christmas Time", "This Year", "Xtina's Xmas"
Number of Traditional Covers: 6
Number of Nontraditional Covers: 2
Number of Originals: 3
Religious Content: A bit. "Angels We Have Heard on High" and "Oh Holy Night", of course. "Oh Holy Night" also shoehorns a spoken work Our Father into the middle of the song.
Santa Content: None. Most of the songs on this album are love songs veiled as Christmas songs.

Greg's Review/Comments

Quality of the Cover Songs: Highly variable, and mostly simply depending on the underlying quality of the song she is covering. The producers here have decided to go with very spare, traditional musical backings for the songs here, which I usually support. Most of the songs feature piano, strings, subtle guitar, and all of those other hallmarks of the Christmas staples, though the production does bust out on a few of the tunes. The critics of Christina are always quick to point out her blatant oversinging of songs which can obscure the melody of the song and produce a very "OK, get to the point of it all" feeling in the listener. This is present on several of the songs contained within the album. For example, "Angels We Have Heard On High" and "Merry Christmas, Baby" go on absolutely forever. "Oh Holy Night" is a song that requires a great singer with a light touch and good sense of restraint. When done in this way, it is quite pretty. Unfortunately, as we all could guess, Christina does not do it this way. That being said, despite the inherent pointlessness of Christina covering a Celine Dion song, "These Are the Special Times" is pretty good, mostly due to the very strong Dianne Warren melody. "This Christmas" is apparently a cover of a Donny Hathaway song, although I have actually never heard the original song. It's a nicely jaunty song, featuring horns and a very catchy melodic line and nice lyric. Kind of makes me want to hear the original, but to Christina's credit, she gives an outstanding vocal performance on the song, possibly her best on the entire album. Her cover of "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" features a spare instrumental backdrop of tinkling piano and strings and is very, very pretty. There are a few unnecessary vocal gymnastics by Xtina, but for the most part she keeps it reined in, and delivers one of my favorite performance I've heard of what is probably my favorite Christmas carol (hmm, maybe "White Christmas"). Not that she doesn't oversing it, because she does, but I sometimes forget that beneath all the unnecessary flourishes and hard edge, she really does have a very pretty voice. She wisely decides not to cover "Jingle Bell Rock"

Quality of Originals: This album has only 3 original songs, which I gather is reasonably typical of these types of albums. But one of the originals, "Xtina's Xmas" hardly even counts as a song at all. It's just Christina singing variations "It's Christmas Time" over and over again over an extremely bizarre musical backdrop. So incredibly odd, and I can't imagine anybody intentionally listening to this song. It's also the only song on the album with sole songwriting credits to Christina, I'll have to ask her where she comes up with ideas for lyrics! Blatant and wholly unnecessary filler. The other two original songs are really good though. "This Year" is hardly distinguishable from any other Christina song of the time, other than its Christmas specific lyrics, there is nothing in the melodic line, production, or vocal performance to differ it from her other hits like "Come On Over Baby". And the lyrics hardly reference Christmas at all anyways. You could replace the word Christmas in the chorus with, say, Thanksgiving and other than screwing up the syllables the song would not be affected at all. But since I really like her hits of this time period, this isn't a problem for me, and I cally like it a whole lot, even if it is a retread. It also features a restrained vocal performance that adds a lot to the song. "Christmas Time", though, is the real hit of the album and one of my favorite pop Christmas songs of all time. The production of the song is very Christmas-y and awesome, Christina's voice is amazing, and man what a catchy melody. Plus it has real Christmas lyrics, it's not just a love song masquerading as a Christmas song! I love the bells, I love the bass beat, and that chorus just gets stuck in my head over and over. And I really love the bridge which cuts back to the awesome beginning of the song with the "fa la las" and features a Xtina rap! This is actually probably one of my 5 Christina Aguilera singles ever. If it were released this year, it would be contending for my top 25 or maybe even top 10 of the year. ("Not This Year" is still better, though "Christmas Time" is better than "Greatest Time of Year" which is currently sitting in the 30s.)

General Comments: This album starts out right away with "Christmas Time", "This Year", and "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas", which got me really excited to hear the rest of the album. So yeah, the rest of the album was a real letdown after those songs. I was especially disappointed that the rest of the covers other than "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" weren't as traditional and pretty as that one. I actually wish they had given her some of the other Christmas songs which have great, classic melodies (such as "I'll Be Home for Christmas", "White Christmas", or "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day") rather than the ones which are just vocal exercises ("The Christmas Song", "Oh Holy Night"). I also think she could have done a great job with "Breath Of Heaven" from Amy Grant's Christmas album. Not that this is a bad album, by any means. I understand that like pretty much all pop Christmas albums it's a blatant rush job and gift to the fans. Fans of Christina probably want to hear these Christmas songs sung in her style and in her voice. So I'm willing to cut this album a lot of slack. Plus there are some real standout tracks on this album, that are just great pop songs, and not merely great Christmas songs. Though there is no possible explanation for "Xtina's Xmas".

Standout Tracks: "Christmas Time", "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas", "This Year", "This Christmas". Please note that this live version of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" is different from and inferior to the recorded version.

Final Rating: This CD is in a lot of ways a matter of style. The two real originals are great pop songs. The covers are going to be a matter of opinion. If you like Christina's style of singing with lots and lots of modulations around the vocal lines and lots and lots of flourishes, you will love these covers, and if you can't stand them you will hate them. I kind of split the middle, in that I don't love them, but they don't necessarily ruin the song for me. (Hell, I was a Katharine McPhee supporter on AI5.) Final rating is 7/10. If you are looking for a fairly inoffensive Christmas album to purchase and put on during a Christmas party or whatnot, this is a good choice.

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