Candy Cane Mutiny

Consumers fight back! You have the power to make the ultimate Christmas album yourself. Use it!

TV's Seinfeld may have shone an unflattering light on the notion of "regifting," but that shame doesn't seem to have rubbed off on the music industry. Every year the surviving major labels extract a dozen songs from previously released or newly deleted Christmas albums, slap them onto new "Various Artists" compilations and scratch that holiday obligation off the list. And in the magical world of regifters, there's none bigger than Universal Music -- the label that swallowed up MCA, A&M, Interscope, Geffen and PolyGram and gave us back "Millennium" collections of every artist it dropped off its roster. This year, the mega-conglomerate has stitched together no fewer than five Christmas compilations for under-the-tree consideration, each covering a different genre except for one -- new music.

And maybe that's a good thing. In a year in which pop music was so bad it made me consider being reassigned as a wine critic, the only thing that could be worse than an Eminem Christmas album is another Celine Dion one.

Outside of a very few unassailable favorites, the bulk of Christmas records contain one or two classic cuts with a bunch of empty stocking stuffers tossed in as filler. It's got me thinking like a major label -- maybe I should make one definitive "Various Artists" Yuletide tape to ensure that I don't have to hear a million versions of "Jingle Bells." Will anything in this year's gleaming stack of holiday offerings make the final cut? Or am I justified in turning in this article two weeks early just so I can trade in these CDs for last-minute shopping money? Use this handy key and you, too, can have a DIY Christmas!

Christina Aguilera, or, as she's known on her new Christmas disc, X-tina. Either way, she's simply X-cruciating.
Christina Aguilera, or, as she's known on her new Christmas disc, X-tina. Either way, she's simply X-cruciating.
Lynyrd Skynyrd does Christmas: Looks like Santa's sleigh will be up on blocks in front of the trailer this year.
Lynyrd Skynyrd does Christmas: Looks like Santa's sleigh will be up on blocks in front of the trailer this year.

Rating Key:
Keeper: Contains enough good songs to actually consider keeping.
Taper: Contains fewer than three tape-worthy songs.
Regifter: If I had a shrink-wrap machine, I'd regift this to a relative who has no musical taste.

Christina Aguilera
My Kind of Christmas (RCA)

In Jerry Butler's just-published autobiography, he writes of another soul great, Otis Redding: "The thing you marveled at about Otis was that he could take a two-syllable word like 'longing' and turn it into eight syllables." He might have added that the Big O didn't multiply every two-syllable word by its square root.

The thing you marvel at about Christina Aguilera (or "X-tina," as she's also known on this X-mess), is how she takes nearly every one-syllable word in "The Christmas Song" -- words like "way," "sleigh," "spy," "fly" and even "the" -- and stretches it to eight syllables, sometimes clumping two words together to go as high as 12 or 15 meaningless hiccups. If Grandma ever does get run over by a reindeer for real, this is not the person you want making the 911 call. While she's wringing every extra woe out of mistletoe, it's not hard to imagine Mel Tormé up in heaven with a clicker, grinding his teeth at every unnecessary embellishment.

A performance of "The Christmas Song" is also featured on the enhanced CD-ROM portion of the program, intercutting footage of X-tina recording with vintage home videos of a preschool Christina opening Christmas presents, then cutting back to a grown-up X-tina every time she decides it's vowel-stretching time. Simply put, it's X-cruciating!
Rating: It's a regifter!

Various Artists
Platinum Christmas (Arista/RCA /Jive)

'Tis the season of giving, but you didn't think Arista was gonna throw Patti Smith a promotional bone, did you? Not even to make sure that Britney, Christina, Backstreet Boys and 'N SYNC fans have no interest in midlife punk whatsoever? Naw, it's platinum pusses only at this brat banquet, but at least they're not serving leftovers like Universal. Seems like the teen pop pack is trying to woo the adults -- Britney does it by emulating "Baby Love"-era Supremes, while the Backstreets and 'N SYNC arm-wrestle over who gets to be more boring than the Lettermen. Balancing out the adolescent abundance is Dido's reflective "Christmas Day," not to be confused with Dave Matthews' reflective "Christmas Song." The latter moves a gurgling baby Jesus from the manger to Mary Magdalene in less than 30 seconds -- a Christmas carol first! Another surprise comes from U.K. dance outfit Steps, which turns in a hand-clapping, foot-stomping version of Slade's "Merry X-Mas Everybody." And maybe I'm overreacting here, but Santana's elegant instrumental "Posada (Pilgrimage to Bethlehem)" brought uncontrollable tears of joy to my eyes -- possibly because it was a relief to hear him play anything but that goddamned "Smooth" song.
Rating: It's a taper!

Lynyrd Skynyrd
Christmas Time Again (CMC International)

"Rudolph the Red Nosed Freebird," "Sleet Survivors," "What's Your Name, Little Elf," "Sweet Gnome Alabama" -- all your Skynyrd holiday favorites are here. Act now and get the recalled sleeve with Santa and his reindeers going up in flames.
Rating: It's a regifter!

Bing Crosby & The Andrews Sisters
A Merry Christmas (MCA)

They've stopped playing Gary Glitter's "Rock and Roll, Part 2" at sporting events because he was caught downloading kiddy porn, yet we continue to blast Bing Crosby's holiday music even though we know he bub-bub-beat the tar out of his four sons, right around the time most of these sides were waxed. Too bad Rolling Stone's David Fricke didn't write the liner notes to this reissue of Bing with the Andrews Sisters -- then we'd get the real dope on Daddy Damnedest: "It is a striking measure of the crooner's blinding holiday pop artistry that he could lead the Andrews Sisters through a fire-crackling 'Twelve Days of Christmas' in the merry month of May and still be home in time to pummel the boys mercilessly with an 8 iron." Until MCA issues a karaoke version that allows us to substitute our own wobbly voices for B-I-N-G-oh!, this one jingles all the way to the resale counter.
Rating: It's a taper!

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