Make no mistake -- Bob Dylan is not one of my favorite people. I know and understand fully his impact and influence on music, but his career became what it was long before I graced the earth with my presence. That's no excuse for not being a Bob Dylan fan, I know, but his music never really spoke to me and my parents never played his music in my youth. Rolling Stone reserving the number two spot for his 2008 album for Dylan's Tell Tale Signs - The Bootleg Series Vol. 8 on their year-end, best of 2008 list was a ridiculous enough gesture, considering how prolific a year 2008 was for new music. However, when the former Robert Zimmerman announced he was going to record a Christmas music album over the summer, the oddity reached a whole new level.
Bob Dylan is a talented singer. Everyone knows what his unique voice sounds like and countless, exhausting descriptions of his albums have been written twenty times over. The move for Dylan to put that scraggly, trademark voice of his to Christmas music is one that still baffles me after multiple listens of Christmas In The Heart. Christmas music has always been sweet, supremely cheesy music thats sole purpose is to get everyone in the mood for cold weather, presents and being with family. It got a pass as legitimate music because it served such a unique function, becoming something that people simply could not escape and had to -- however begrudgingly -- accept in their lives come December. We put up with it for one month, like we do with the in-laws for however long they come and stay with us.
Christmas In The Heart, however, is just so plain and watered-down. I can't help but think as I listen to it, "Dylan is so much better than this." That thought ignores the fact that all the album profits will go to charity, but I can't help but sigh and laugh when I hear Bob Dylan sing -- with an odd, childlike glee -- "In the meadow we can build a snowman / And pretend that he is Parson Brown." It's just so silly and basic -- like most Christmas music -- yet this particular round features one of the most influential musicians of our time.
I applaud Dylan for donating all the profits like he is, but he could have done so without having to record an album in a genre that is notoriously simple and played out. Dylan's version of "Christmas Island" is so insufferably bad, its perfectly situated at the end of the album because no Dylan fan would continue to listen to an album of his with that atrocity on it if it were, say, the first or second track. He still recorded the track, but he gracefully shoved it towards the end of the album, making listeners really have to work to get there.
Part of the uphill battle to wade through Christmas In The Heart involves the absolutely mind-numbingly awful version of "Must Be Santa." This particular Holiday ditty has got to be one of the worst ever written, with repetitive lyrics and a cadence that an ADHD-afflicted hummingbird would find too confusingly fast. Yet there's Dylan -- complete with an accordion -- rambling through this absolute crapfest of a song. If this -- or any -- album in 2009 has a lowest point, it is Bob Dylan's "re-imagining" of "Must Be Santa." The best part of the song, thankfully, is that it is only 2:49 long, although that's about 2 minutes too long.
It's a lot to ask your fans to listen to Christmas music in October, yet it's even more to subject them to 15 of the cheesiest, most cornball songs in a row. Yet that is exactly what Christmas In The Heart is. I am still baffled by this entire album, finding myself defending Christmas music for the first time in my life. There are more than a few classics butchered by Dylan on his latest album, and just I hope Santa Claus brings him a much needed reality check come December 25.
Click on the title to listen to the cringe-inducing "Must Be Santa."
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