Guide to Christmas music: 2012

It’s Christmas, and music wants to join in. There’s a lot of judgement flying around on artists who make Christmas music; it’s not that fashionable, and it’s popular to believe that it’s better left to Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong and the like, but we at Cherwell think that if Bob Dylan, Sting and suchlike want to get into the Christmas spirit, more power to them. ‘Tis the season.

It’s difficult to say who we would expect to release a Christmas album, as everyone from  Elvis to Justin Bieber has been involved in this dubious practice at some time. But let’s be honest, Rod Stewart wasn’t much of a surprise. Less like a fish out of water than a mutilated fish that’s forgotten how to swim and has in any case been packed up in a FedEx parcel and sent to the Moon, ‘Rod the Mod’ croons his way through 16 Christmas classics for what seems like an eternity.

One could imagine The Faces producing an enjoyable Christmas album, but instead we’ve got their lead singer doing his best Bing Crosby impression and inspiring more nausea than a whole plate of Brussels sprouts. Mary J. Blige adds a touch of undeniable quality on ‘We Three Kings’, but this isn’t enough to excuse a record that probably wouldn’t even please its target audience of middle-aged women sitting by the fireside. But we shouldn’t be shocked, it is called ‘Merry Christmas, Baby’ after all.

Still, it’s not all doom and gloom, as an unlikely saviour of Christmas is at hand in the form of Cee Lo Green, who casts himself as Santa plus swag on the album cover of ‘Cee Lo’s Magic Moment’. He’s taken on the rôle of spreading Christmas cheer, and achieves it in wonderfully cheery fashion; it’s virtually impossible not to smile while listening to ‘All I Need Is Love’, a collaboration with The Muppets. It’s not all cheerful though; possibly the album’s best moment is Green’s rendition of Joni Mitchell’s ‘River’, a tragic, goose bump-inspiring break-up ode. Finally, the album closes with a spine-tingling ‘Silent Night’, which acts as a firm reminder of his vocal talent. Yes, it’s cheesy, and yes, it’s part of Cee Lo’s mission to expand the public personality that he’s been developing on NBC’s ‘The Voice’, but c’mon guys, it’s Christmas, and if you’re not in a festive mood by the end, your first name has to be Ebenezer.

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If you’re desperate for new Christmas music though, the place to go is ‘Christmas Rules’, an album from various artists, including fun., Civil Wars and The Shins. Even Paul McCartney’s got in on the act with a version of ‘The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire)’. While it doesn’t give you the relentless feeling of joy that Cee Lo provides, one can’t ignore the fact that it includes a duet from Rufus Wainwright and Sharon Van Etten, who cover ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’ and will make you feel like you’re sitting by a fireside drinking eggnog and trying to ignore the weird game of charades being conducted by the section of your family that you prefer not to talk to.

We can’t go through all the Christmassy wonder on the album, but it’s worth mentioning that Y La Bamba bring us a song called ‘Señor Santa’, which is exactly as amazing as it sounds; The Shins give their own unique sound to ‘Wonderful Christmastime’, a brave venture when on the same album as the man who wrote it but successful nevertheless; and Heartless Bastards offer up a country-style rendition of ‘Blue Christmas’ in a great contribution to the truly excellent combination of country and Christmas that Lady Antebellum have managed so wonderfully this year with ‘On This Winter’s Night’, an album filled with almost more than the appropriate amount of festive happiness.

In conclusion, music has thrown its considerable weight into Christmas yet again, and it’s done pretty well. We haven’t had anything with the quality of Emmy the Great and Tim Wheeler’s 2011 release ‘This Is Christmas’, which is well worth a listen, but we’re going to spend Christmas Day 2012 with Rufus Wainwright and Sharon Van Etten, and who could complain about that?