Now That's What I Call Christmas, Vol. 2
Sony BMG, 2003
REVIEW BY: Michael R. Smith
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 12/25/2007
Back for another go-around, your traditional holiday favorites are performed by all the classic artists from the past. All are solid as ever and have been brilliantly re-mastered and repackaged in all their glory. It’s perfect fodder for those radio stations that play non-stop Christmas music 24/7 for the whole month of December. It’s NOW a reality, despite whether you love it or hate it.
This time, the newer artists get top-billing and are featured on CD 1. Big mistake. Also, the song selection overall feels substantially weaker than was found on Volume 1. However, there a handful of new artists (ones that you can deem “nice” this holiday season) that make the most of this rather sticky situation. Destiny’s Child’s a’cappella “Opera Of The Bells” is a risk that pays off and is a great choice to kick things off. It’s amazing what these girls could do with their voices as their sole means of instrumentation. Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” is also here, and is one of the very few Mariah songs that I like. In fact, I dare say it rivals “Vision Of Love” as her best song ever. It’s a true original from this over-the-top diva artist.
Also strong on CD 1 is “Last Christmas” by Wham, which hails from my beloved eighties decade. They could have stopped the album right there and I’d be good. Thankfully though, it is quickly followed up by an even better 80’s Christmas classic in the form of “Christmas Wrapping” by the Waitresses. It’s another original and this new wave act hits it out of the park - BRAVO. A low-key entry that makes the grade is “Silent Night” by Charlotte Church. Consider this one “opera-lite” in style -- just don’t have any breakable glasses out when she hits those high notes. Gee willikers.
So what are the misses on the first half of Volume 2? Where do I begin…well, let’s start with “O Come All Ye Faithful” by Stacie Orrico and “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” by B2K. Both are hip hop drivel and are poorly conceived all the way around. With Orrico’s long and drawn-out passages, someone should put her out of her misery. It’s a sacrilege to hear a religious hymn butchered. As for the numbskulls known as B2K, Santa should put coal in their stockings for eternity for their whiny vocals and faux-thug speak.
The male singers don’t fare much better. Elton John’s “Step Into Christmas” sounds as if it was recorded in a tunnel during a rainstorm, Jimmy Buffet’s reggae take on “Jingle Bells” is a ridiculous mess (as if they have snow sleighs in Margaritaville), and Vince Gill’s “Do You Hear What I Hear” is a sad and downbeat performance if there ever was one. Why such the long face, Vince? You’ve just been nominated for Album Of The Year!
Let’s move on to the much-improved CD 2, shall we? The first eight tracks are pure heaven when it comes to what Christmas music should sound like. You’ve got good ol’ Satchmo’s “Winter Wonderland” to give you the warm and fuzzies, Barbara Streisand’s show-stopping “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” to elevate the mood, and even Lou Rawls (remember him?) who puts a nice soul spin on “Little Drummer Boy,” although I still prefer Joan Jett’s rock version. Also, there’s Peggy Lee harkening back to the swingin,’ delightfully tacky sixties with “Happy Holiday,” Chuck Berry showing Bryan Adams how it’s done on “Run Rudolph Run” and, get this, Tom Jones’ off-the-wall performance of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” which is what you might call a XXXmas song for strippers. May as well, Tom, everything else has been done.
Then, as you might have guessed, we hit a snag. The overblown “live” mix (the audience effects are fake) of “Feliz Navidad” by Jose Feliciano is embarrassing, considering how authentic he was recently when he performed the song this year on the Boston Common - where the audience actually sang along. Next, Osmond mentor Andy Williams steeps “The First Noel” knee-deep in tradition, and puts me to sleep in the process and Yolanda Adams puts “O Little Town Of Bethlehem” firmly entrenched in AM radio territory with no escape in sight (Bethlehem this, Yolanda). Even worse, as if that were possible, is Kenny Rogers spinning yet another yarn for “Kentucky Homemade Christmas” (somebody shoot me), and old Andy Griffith croaking his way through “Go Tell It On The Mountain” (somebody shoot whoever said this old fart could carry a tune).