MTV: TRL Christmas

MTV: TRL Christmas

MTV: TRL Christmas

Various Artists

Lava/Atlantic

At first glance, this may appear to be the musical equivalent of coal in your stocking, and to a large extent, it is — a big batch of overproduced sludge from some of the biggest names in soulless pop music around today. The most egregious offender is certainly Willa Ford, whose “Santa Baby (Gimme Gimme Gimme)” is not only soulless dance-pop of the Britney variety, but completely crass and contrary to the spirit of the season. Likewise, ‘N Sync’s “I Don’t Wanna Spend One More Christmas Without You” sounds like every other of their ballads, with nothing but a few lyrics to distinguish it as holiday material — to paraphrase Jon Stewart, it might as well have been called “Girl, You Know I’ll Be Kissing You for Christmas.” And the exact same is true of LFO’s “Red Letter Day,” though it’s strikingly more upbeat, and they’re a lot more distinctive, for better or worse. Christina Aguilera’s dance-pop version of the traditional “Angels We Have Heard On High” is mostly harmless, though replete with her usual faux-diva histrionics (as my distinguished colleague Christopher Weingarten puts it, she’s “trying to keep up with the girls who actually have the soul to make it convincing.”). TLC (who I often like) manage to butcher one of my holiday favorites, “Sleigh Ride,” Simple Plan sound like yet another Blink-182 clone while aping Willa Ford’s idea of Christmas spirit on “My Christmas List,” and Weezer’s “The Christmas Song” is surprisingly sludgy and not at all as catchy as I’ve come to expect from them (a major disappointment). P.O.D.’s “Rock The Party (RTP Remix)” wants to be The Beastie Boys meets Revolting Cocks, but instead comes across more as Vanilla Ice meets Stabbing Westward — read, nowhere near as interesting — and moreover, seems holiday-related by only the broadest of definitions. Bif Naked’s “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” sounds like a bad No Doubt ripoff (perhaps a redundant statement, though No Doubt at least had the balls to cover The Vandals’ “Oi to the World” when they did a Christmas tune). Angela Via comes across as yet another post-Toni Braxton/Mariah Carey diva-be on “Christmas Wish,” which sounds too much like Braxton’s “Unbreak My Heart” for comfort. Taken on a whole, it’s enough to make a listener feel like the kid that sang “I’m Gettin’ Nothing For Christmas,” ’cause the bulk of this CD ain’t nothing but bad — not to mention that most of the CD is the musical equivalent of regifting, as it’s almost all previously released material.

But it’s not all hickory switches and coal. Sugar Ray turn in a surprisingly credible cover of The Beach Boys’ “Little Saint Nick” that’s way better than it has a right to be — though by no means equal to the original (which wasn’t a classic to begin with). Blink-182 add some jingle bells and chimes to their trademark pop-punk for “I Won’t Be Home For Christmas” — typically sophomoric, but still more true to the spirit of the season than Willa Ford. Smash Mouth’s “Better Do It Right” is moderately interesting, with a nice lounge/ska vibe, but its minor key moodiness and lyrics almost seem more appropriate to the nightmare before Christmas. And Jimmy Fallon’s “Snowball” is a hilarious, fun, and surprisingly raucous punk rocker that’s more authentic than virtually anything else passing for “punk” on here — it’s like a Christmas version of Black Flag’s “TV Party.” Little T and One Track Mike’s “Snow Angel” is another surprise — a nice, forward-leaning, progressive hip hop track that will get heads noddin’. And of course, a gentle holiday epic like Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s “Christmas Canon” is always welcome — especially since it incorporates Pachelbel’s “Canon in D Minor,” a particularly happy song for me, as it was played at my wedding.

While the good doesn’t outweigh the bad enough for me to seriously suggest you purchase this record for yourself or as a gift, the few good tracks, especially Fallon’s, Little T and One Track Mike’s, and Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s, are worth seeking out.

Lava/Atlantic Records: http://www.atlantic-records.com • MTV: http://www.mtv.com

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