Music Reviews: Christmas Composition Compendium, Or Yule Know A Good Tune When You Hear One

December 5, 2015



Kylie Minogue: Kylie Christmas              6.5

Michael Buble: Christmas                       6

Enya: And Winter Came                          5


It’s always interesting, come the end of the year, to see who’s using the Christmas season to elevate their profile or, less frequently, to extend themselves in a new creative direction with an album of Christmas music. Also, will the results match up to example set by Boney M (in the sense that the tunes will be considered the definitive versions of the songs concerned) or the example set by Boney M (in the sense that you’ll immediately leave any shop that plays a cliché-ridden standard for the 145th time by the end of October each year)?

Kylie Minogue’s Kylie Christmas seems designed to cover all the bases. It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year and Santa Claus Is Coming To Town (the latter featuring Frank Sinatra via some smart editing) feature the choral backing, the horns and the strings that make Rat Pack or Tony Bennett Yuletide offerings so appealing, while Winter Wonderland and Let It Snow, with similar instrumental arrangements, are perfect vehicles for Minogue’s coquettish, breathless singing style. She then enters the unlikely collaborative pop phase of the collection, duetting with first Iggy Pop on the cheesy, upbeat ballad Christmas Wrapping, which features a very catchy horn hook; and then with actor/comedian/TV host James Corden on Yazoo’s Only You, which has no discernible Christmas link other than that the UK has a tradition of embracing covers of old pop hits as chart-toppers around this time of year. I’m Gonna Be Warm This Winter feels a Mark Ronson-ish arrangement and may have been a Christmas No 1 if Amy Winehouse was around to handle the singing. The Kylie co-written original White December is strong enough to feel like it belongs in more established company after a couple of listens, and the quality of Chrissie Hynde’s 2000 Miles is placed beyond doubt with a soft-focus interpration included here as well.

The fact that Michael Buble’s Christmas and Enya’s And Winter Came are re-issues of 2011 and 2008 releases respectively takes the fresh creativity angle out of the equation (and introduces the cynical cash-grabbing aspect, sadly), leaving the albums to be judged on how the featured songs have aged since they were recorded. Buble’s ability to put his own entertaining spin on well-known material stands him in good stead here, with a loosened-up take on Jingle Bells (featuring the Puppini Sisters) being a stand-out. All I Want For Christmas – a much-abused inclusion in such projects – is treated with a little more respect and circumspection, while Holly Jolly Christmas feels custom-made for Buble’s sauve, smiling stage persona. Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) has the sort of epic production co-writer Phil Spector would demand and, but the Buble co-write Cold December Night has fared less well – you likely won’t remember it from 2011, and you may have forgotten it by next week. Re-releasing Enya’s only collection of Christmas music makes some marketing sense in that it was the last album she released before this year’s Dark Sky Island, and it’s a useful tool to remind a new generation of listeners that the multi Grammy winner still exists. As it always has been, the layered synths and reverb favoured by the Irish singer-songwriter are very different to more mainstream offerings, meaning that the original material here may require some getting used to. O Come, O Come Emmanuel, however, is brilliantly suited to the Celtic strains employed here (though the Daft Punk filter used on occasional lines does jar). Trains And Winter Rains has an accessible melody, though its themes are are more season- than festival-related. The Spirit Of Christmas Past returns to that idea, but the collection’s one-paced – and it’s always slow – feel doesn’t lend itself to listeners keeping their attention on what’s being played.