Christmas Of Hope
Columbia Records, 1995
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 12/19/2000
Christmas has become commericial. I know this. Anyone who's grown up on A Charlie Brown Christmas knows this. 'Tis the season to be jolly - unless that overweight woman ahead of you tries to grab the last set of leg cozies you were going to buy for your Aunt Agnes. (Is it me, or is Christmastime the only time you see television ads for crap like Chia-Pets and The Clapper?)
What bothers me more than the commercialization of the hoildays is when Christmas albums are released, and though they may have good intentions by donating proceeds to charity, the albums seem to be concocted just to sell. And as I sit here holding Christmas Of Hope, a disc I bought a few years back (and appears to be out of print), I can't help thinking that this is one of those examples.
I know I should encourage people to seek this disc out and buy it, simply because all profits, according to the record label, are donated to City Of Hope, and I don't want to discourage people from giving to charity. But sometimes, I think you'd be better off whipping out your checkbook and writing a $20 check to the charity than picking up this disc.
Why am I being grinchy about Christmas Of Hope? For one thing, will someone explain to me how the hell "New Year's Day" from U2 is a CHRISTMAS SONG?!? Cripes, using that logic, I could successfully argue that Venom's "Welcome To Hell" quailfies as well. This track should have been deep-sixed.
The other thing that bothers me is the track selection, and the sometimes stone cold renditions of these holiday favorites. Elton John's "Step Into Christmas" could well qualify as one of the worst holiday songs out there, simply put. Mariah Carey sounds good on "Silent Night," but there is emotion lacking in her performance. And while I admire Wynton Marsalis's talent, I don't know if a jazz rendition of "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!" quite fits the mood. (It could well be also that, as I wrote this review, Chicago was about to be hit by its third significant snowfall in 10 days, and I'm absolutely sick of the white stuff.)
That all said, there are some performances on Christmas Of Hope that don't make me lose hope. The Eagles's rendition of "Please Come Home For Christmas" might be a little stale, but I grew up hearing it, and I still like listening to it from time to time. Aaron Neville ("Bells Of St. Mary's"), Aretha Franklin ("Joy To The World") and James Brown ("Merry Christmas, Baby") all get things right. And even John Mellencamp turns in a respectable performance with "Teddi's Song (When Christmas Comes)."
Christmas albums, I realize, have to be somewhat commercial, or they would sell as well as space heaters on the equator. But there has to be some real emotion in the performances as well; otherwise, it sounds like the artists are just going through the motions. There are some good songs on Christmas Of Hope, but for the most part, this disc shows what happens when that emotion is missing.