Saturday, December 02, 2006

Album Review: Hilary Duff - Santa Claus Lane

The TCR Christmas content officially begins today, with a review of Hilary Duff's comparatively little known Christmas release, Santa Claus Lane (whoops, maybe it began two months ago). Like I said in the last post, there will be much, much more to come, including reviews of Christmas albums by Christina Aguilera, B2K, Hanson, Girls Aloud, The Cheetah Girls, and Clay Aiken, along with hopefully some others if I can track them down. If you have any ideas for other Christmas albums, or for any Christmas TV or movie related content, I once again urge you to leave a comment or e-mail me. As much as I hate blatantly begging for comments and e-mails, I am having trouble coming up with ideas on the TV and movie side of the equation. Please don't make me resort to doing a review of Home Alone.

The Vitals

The Album: Santa Claus Lane
The Artist: Hilary Duff
Year Released: 2002, originally, though I will be reviewing the 2003 re-release (featuring the new track "What Christmas Should Be") herein
Length: 36:42, including the new 2003 track.
The Covers: "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town", "Jingle Bell Rock", "Sleigh Ride", "Last Christmas", "A Wonderful Christmas Time"
The Originals: "What Christmas Should Be", "Santa Claus Lane" (yes, it is a different song from the classic Christmas carol), "I Heard Santa on the Radio", "When the Snow Comes Down in Tinseltown", "Tell Me a Story (About the Night Before)", "Same Old Christmas"
Inevitably Sad, Anti-Christmas Tune: "Last Christmas"
Religious Content: Nil. Not a single song on here even hints at any religious significance behind Christmas
Santa Content: High. 4 of the 5 cover songs have no mention of Santa Claus at all ("Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" being the obvious exception). Of the originals, "Same Old Christmas" and "What Christmas Should Be" have no Santa content. The remaining 5 songs all either heavily reference or are directly built around Santa Claus. A nearly 50% Santa hit rate.

Greg's Review/Comments

Quality of the Cover Songs: Unlike many Christmas albums, which simply do a rote regurgitation (*cough*AlyandAJ*cough*), this album actually attempts to add a new spin upon the songs that it covers. The production style on this is very much classic Motown-style "Wall of Sound" (not that the production itself sounds anything like Spector or Motown, just that it's extremely busy). There is little guitar to be found on this record, choosing instead to focus primarily on electronic instrumentation. Very little in the way of traditional Christmas music staples such as bells and strings as well. Sometimes the approach of busying up the classic songs works, and sometimes it really doesn't. "Last Christmas" (which actually features some of the least busy production on the entire album) is clearly inferior to the Wham! version, and the "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" treatment is probably worse than just any old normal version. But sometimes it works really well! I would prefer to listen to Hilary's "A Wonderful Christmas Time" about 10x more than the Paul McCartney version, given that it's about 10x more FUN and about 10x less PRETENTIOUS (wait would that make it 100x better?) than the original. Yes Mr. McCartney, songs declaring the joy of a happy Christmas are, in fact, supposed to be fun. Plus the rockin' electric guitar solo.

Quality of Originals: This album has 6 original songs out of 11 overall, which is an excellent ratio. And the originals are all pretty catchy! "Santa Claus Lane" is a really fun song with a very catchy instrumental hook and chorus, although extremely generic lyrics. "When the Snow Comes Down in Tinseltown" is a real throwaway track with standard pro-snow lyrics and a very "Christmas song" sounding melody. Not much to recommend this song really, but it's pleasant enough and the spoken word parts are so incredibly cheesy that they made me laugh out loud, which is always a plus. "Same Old Christmas" is a similarly pleasant-but-not-great duet with Haylie, which features a pro-Christmas tradition lyric. This leaves 3 other original songs, which are all interesting in their own way.

1) "Tell Me a Story (About the Night Before)" is a "duet" with Lil Romeo that has lyrics adapted from classic Christmas poem "The Night Before Christmas". The song features rapping by Lil Romeo during the lyrics with Hilary piping in for the chorus. And ho-lee crap is it horrible. Wow, Hilary Duff REALLY should not do R&B because her voice is not half strong enough for a decent R&B singer. Also it has so little actual Hilary Duff content that it baffles me that it is included on an official Hilary Duff album. And yet, this was actually the only official single from the album.

2) "I Heard Santa on the Radio" is one of the most bizarre Christmas songs I've heard yet. First of all, it's a duet with Christina Milian, who a lot of people might not know got her start as a Diz singer. OK, to get an idea of this song, here are the lyrics to the pre-chorus/chorus to this song: "Hey hey hey/and Ho ho hoand Now its time/For the jolly DJ show/I heard Santa on the radio/I knew it was Santa on the radio/Mixing up the music like a Santa should/And radio, radio/Never sounded so good". Those are basically the lyrics to the song, about Santa being a DJ on the radio show, "finding bustin beats" (<-- actual quote from the song) and uniting the entire world through dance! The song also (hilariously) implies that there are multiple Santa Clauses. Musically, it's actually really good and catchy, with good production and a nice melody, but the lyrics are just so weird and bad. 3) "What Christmas Should Be" was recorded a year after the rest of the tracks on this album, and you can totally tell! It sounds almost nothing like the other songs. It's based mostly around guitar, features a more mature lyric extolling the virtues of world peace, hope, etc. during Christmas time, and a much stronger vocal by Hilary. She totally changed her entire sound in the span of a year. And changed it for the better, I'd say, because this is the best track on the album. This song, unlike any of the other of these tracks, would totally fit in on Metamorphosis, and would actually be one of the standout tracks on that album, in my opinion at least.

General Comments: Man, if you think that Hilary's singing is thin and bad on some of her later albums, you should listen to this one. She clearly got some vocal training between this album and the later ones, because it's really restricted here. They have wisely decided to mix this album so that her vocals are usually drowned out by the music and background vocals, so it's not bad enough to destroy the album or anything. Hilary Duff remains possibly my favorite singles artist of the 2000's, as she would probably place about 4 or 5 singles in my top 50 of the decade. Yet, she's always been pretty inconsistent as far as albums are concerned, and this one is no exception. I'd probably stick to Most Wanted if you are looking to get any Hilary album (get the signature edition, it has "Jehrico"!), but for a throwaway Christmas effort, this is actually really good. I realize that "really good for a throwaway Christmas album" is pretty faint praise, but I'm not sure I can offer anything stronger. Probably not worth a purchase except for the most hardcore of Hilary Duff fans, but definitely an interesting listen, and several of the songs are catchy enough to get stuck in your head. That being said, the treatment it's being given now (that is, the THIS ALBUM DOES NOT EXIST AND NEVER DID treatment) is undeserved. You will see many massive store displays featuring many Christmas albums this December, and I doubt any will have this album. Her discography as listed on her own official website even excludes this album. OK, maybe not her best work, but not her worst work either, and it deserves a listing!

Standout Tracks: "What Christmas Should Be", "Santa Claus Lane", "A Wonderful Christmas Time"

Final Rating: A lot of clunkers, no excellent tracks, and probably too sugary to listen to in one go, even considering that it's barely a half an hour long. 6.5/10. Not a very high score, but I actually anticipate that this will be one of the best, if not THE best itself, of the teen pop Christmas albums I review this December. I hope I'm wrong. By the way, that album cover makes me laugh real hard every time I see it. Unintentional comedy rating for the album cover is 10/10.

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