Now That's What I Call Christmas!
UMG Recordings, 2001
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 12/20/2001
Each year over the last few, there has been an album released which claims to be the ultimate collection of holiday music. Each successive disc boasts it has all the songs that make the holidays special for everyone - at least, for everyone who celebrates Christmas.
I'm here to shatter this myth. When it comes to "the ultimate Christmas album", there ain't no such thing, kids. Fact is, each one of us carries special memories of certain songs that we will take to our graves, and the only way for there to be even close to an ultimate collection would be for all the labels to get together and release about a 20-CD set. (Even that wouldn't be enough, but it would be a good start.)
This year's entry, Now That's What I Call Christmas!, is blatantly commercial, coming from the same people who have been saturating the marketplace with "best-of-today's-hits" collections the last three years in America. That said, it's a surprisingly good collection with some curve balls thrown in. If only they hadn't relied heavily on Platinum Christmas, from which no less than three tracks are lifted.
I could blather on about how this disc is missing some songs which make the holidays special for me - where's the Harry Simeone Chorale? Andy Williams? Roger Whittaker nearly reducing me to tears with "Tiny Angels"? Robert Goulet singing "Home For The Holidays"? But that's going back to the "no true ultimate holiday album" comment - hell, if I want that kind of a collection, I'll burn my own CD. So, let's judge this disc on what it has, not what it's missing.
What Now That's What I Call Christmas! does have, in fact, are renditions of songs which we might not be used to. Anyone expecting to hear the version of "White Christmas" from Bing Crosby that has become legendary will be in for a big surprise; while I can't place where the version included here comes from, it's most definitely a different take. In a way, it's kind of refreshing to hear - that is, once you get over the initial shock of not hearing the same version for the 20,000th time.
For the "classic" portion of this collection, the producers have done rather well. No holiday season would be complete without Nat King Cole's rendition of "The Christmas Song," Bobby Helms's "Jingle Bell Rock" or Gene Autry's "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer," the last track arguably the most famous b-side in the history of music. The inclusion of the duet between Crosby and David Bowie, "Little Drummer Boy / Peace On Earth," is a pleasant surprise, especially with the banter removed from the beginning - and while it's not a "classic" per se, Kathy Mattea's new track "Christmas Collage" captures her beautiful voice while maintaining the reverence of the hymn montage she performs.
I have but one complaint for this first disc - namely, the inclusion of Johnny Mathis's rendition of "It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year". No offense to Mr. Mathis, but Andy Williams's version is, at least to me, the definitive performance, and should have been included. I'd have featured Mathis's version of "Winter Wonderland," never mind the fact that Tony Bennett performs the same track.
The "modern" portion of this collection takes up the second disc, though there's a nice selection of what I consider holiday classics which starts it off. Hearing John Lennon & Yoko Ono's "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" (despite being re-mixed) is always a pleasure, as it is to hear Band Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas," arguably the last classic Christmas song recorded to date.
The rest of this second disc is more hit-and-miss. Michael Bolton turns in a surprisingly good performance on "Our Love Is Like A Holiday," while Diana Krall ("Jingle Bells") and Boyz II Men ("Silent Night") are pleasing to the ears. I even liked the take of The Big Yard Family (featuring Shaggy) and their tune "All We Need Is Love (Christmas In The Yard)" - admittedly, a song I wasn't looking forward to. On the flip side, while they're not bad tunes, selections from Gloria Estefan ("Love On Layaway"), Celine Dion ("Don't Save It All For Christmas Day"), *NSync ("You Don't Have To Be Alone (On Christmas)") and Britney Spears ("My Only Wish (This Year)") make me pine for the traditional holiday tunes. I realize that each generation needs their own songs to celebrate the season, but these all feel like more commercial outings than the music I grew up on.
Is Now That's What I Call Christmas! the ultimate holiday collection? No... and I dare anyone to show me any collection which would meet such a daunting title. But it's not a bad effort, even if you find yourself gravitating to the older music over the newer, or vice versa. For a blatantly commercial effort, it's pretty good.