When you think of Christmas songs, you probably think of the classics first — “Jingle Bells” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”
But Christmas songs aren’t limited to the traditional tunes we hear this time of year. As the recently released Christmas album, Gift Wrapped II — Snowed In, shows, pop songs can’t always provide a little holiday cheer.
The compilation attempts to appeal to a wide audience by modernizing traditional Christmas melodies and incorporating original pop songs, but the result is simply a mash-up of hackneyed themes and genre overload.
The album features 19 tracks, half of which are generally unrecognizable — newer, hipper melodies meant to replace the more traditional carols. Still, as a whole the album lacks focus, transitioning from pop to country and rock to mockery.
For example, the silly “Merry Something to You” by Devo is quickly followed by a Beethoven-esque symphony of “Carol of the Bells” — an impractical order that only epitomizes the odd choices for the rest of the songs.
The first track, “Home for Christmas” by Cavo, is a deceptive lead-in. The song itself stands as a decent contemporary tune, almost like an updated version of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” The lyrics are particularly relatable and heartfelt: Time’s moving on / another year gone and I’m still believing.
But the next track, “Les Trois Cloches,” has a distinctly old-fashioned feel and verges on country rather than pop or rock. Such a shift in genres, whether one prefers country or pop, risks alienating listeners.
Tegan and Sara’s version of “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late)” is also a strange addition. The song attempts to provide a contemporary update to the classic, but the biggest problem — besides the fact that Tegan and Sara talk like chipmunks — is that the harmony overpowers the melody, making the song sound flat and off-key.
Apart from the album’s random array of genres and song choices, it’s also unnecessarily repetitive. Nearly every pop song laments a lost love or dwells on a faraway home, a theme particularly conspicuous in the male-female duets.
Had Gift Wrapped II eliminated the songs that didn’t fit this theme and been subtitled “Coming Home” or “Loving You” — a track that clearly resonated the desire to be with loved ones — then the album might have sounded more focused.
What is most puzzling is the number of non-Christmas songs throughout the album. Although the Goo Goo Dolls’ “Better Days” and Regina Spektor’s “December” are beautiful songs, how did they manage to make the cut on an album meant to be played on Christmas Day?
These songs, and others like them, are indeed contemporary but lack the direct connection to the Christmas spirit that so many traditional songs already have.
Despite the overall disorganization, about a third of the songs on the album are surprisingly decent. Gift Wrapped II shines with David Foster’s extravagant instrumental version of “Carol of the Bells.” The chorus and bridge are over-the-top explosions of sound and rhythm — perfectly amplifying an already powerful song.
Additionally, House of Heroes’ rock version of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” is an impressive highlight. The lead singer’s voice is mesmerizing, especially in the beginning before the onset of instruments.
The song is one of the few on the album that manages to unify contemporary rock with traditional Christmas music. As the lead singer builds up to the chorus, the instruments suddenly cease, allowing the folklike melody to sink in.
The end of the album unfortunately shows the opposite of what House of Heroes’ and Foster’s versions bring to the table. Though the final track is the classic “Little Drummer Boy,” the vocals from Wayne Coyne, the lead singer of The Flaming Lips, is an atrocious choice.
His voice is consistently flat and difficult to hear: The track is a live version, but it’s not evident why. The audio is fuzzy, the instruments are too loud and the lead singer’s vocals are soft and shaky.
Gift Wrapped II — Snowed In is not exactly a failed Christmas compilation — it’s more of a gutsy attempt to sound simultaneously modern and traditional, new and cultured. But it can’t decide what it wants to be or who its target audience is, and, unfortunately, these questions are never answered.