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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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I JUST bought Chemistry w/ Xmas bonus disc yesterday. Crazy. (Haven't listened to it yet.)

5:28 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

I hope you enjoy! Though I personally found Chemistry to be quite a disappointment.

9:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the writing team from Jordan's "Jump to the Rhythm" is not the same for any of her other songs. Robyn Johnson and Frank Fitzpatrick are not writers on any of her songs other than "Jump..."

just thought you should know :D

2:52 AM  

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