The Big Issue : Edition 576
MUSIC 56 THEBIGISSUE.ORG.AU 3–25 DEC 2018 Making an unorthodox lateral move to the east, Jessie J became the first international artist to win China’s television series, Singer. This makes her latest offering, This Christmas Day, all the more peculiar. Jessie’s jazzy recital of every Christmas carol known to the Western world feels inherently lazy. Her vocals are, as always, pristine and the big-band backing on each track would make any grandparent swoon, but the passion she brought to Singer is glaringly absent. ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ is a fun moment, but the rest is best ser ved as background noise. Features from Boyz II Men (‘Winter Wonderland’) and Babyface (‘The Christmas Song’) feel like an afterthought, but are the only other highlights on an otherwise lazy cash cow. If the world didn’t have Mariah Carey, Justin Bieber or Gucci Mane’s original holiday records, perhaps Jessie J’s recital would be fine. The holidays are a time for cheer, sincerity and the utmost thoughtfulness, but This Christmas Day is just another dull performance destined for the discount bin. KISH LAL THIS CHRISTMAS DAY JESSIE J In the late 90s, Conan O’Brien recruited surf-rock instrumentalists Los Straitjackets as his show’s Christmas house band. It was a gimmick that kept on giving: these seasonal standards suit the surf-rock setting, with the band going on to release a slew of Christmas records. Complete Christmas Songbook collects Los Straitjackets’ yuletide output, serving as a streaming-friendly musical alternative for of fice parties and family barbies. Despite the radical stylistic switch and absence of vocals, the familiar melodies of Christmas’ creaky carols and incessant jingles remain instantly recognisable. ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’, with its minor-key woe and evocations of Satan, is born to be a glowering garage-rocker; hearing ‘We Three Kings’ funnelled through the spirit of Dick Dale is a delight; and ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ sounds as if it’s beckoning believers to the beach, which in Australia is all too fitting for the summertime season. ANTHONY CAREW COMPLETE CHRISTMAS SONGBOOK LOS STRAITJACKETS COULD YOU IMAGINE Love Actually without the pivotal scene where Joanna belts out Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want for Christmas Is You’ and then finishes the performance by pointing directly at her love interest, Sam, sitting broodily behind the drums? Of course not! It’s a bona fide yuletide banger, lifted off one of the great Christmas albums: Mariah Carey’s Merry Christmas. Every year, dozens of pop stars wheel out tired Christmas records, but it is a select few who manage to make a classic. Anyone can add a beat and synth to ‘Frosty the Snowman’ and wedge it between a few dreary B-sides with the hope of moving a few units in the holiday season. But not everyone can take a classic carol and transform it into a jazzy hit that one-ups the original, the way Ella Fitzgerald did with ‘Sleigh Ride’ and ‘Winter Wonderland’ on Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas. Sometimes, the stranger the interpretation the better. Take Christmas on Death Row, a compilation from Death Row Records. Released in 1996, only months after the death of label star Tupac, the record proved that gangsta rap has a place in the proud Christmas music canon. And trust me: drop Snoop Doggy Dogg’s cover of ‘Santa Claus Goes Straight to the Ghetto’ just as Nana begins to nod off over her post-pudding sherry, and you will most definitely get the party started. SARAH SMITH > Music Editor Repeating the dependable formula of 2016’s Good Times!, The Monkees reteam with producer Adam Schlesinger and crack songwriters such as Rivers Cuomo (Weezer), Andy Partridge (XTC) and Peter Buck (REM) for their inaugural holiday album. The veterans balance clean-cut seasonal cheer with surprisingly emotional turns – for every affectionate lark like Paul McCartney’s ‘Wonderful Christmastime’, there’s a show-stopping highlight like Big Star’s ‘Jesus Christ’. There’s earnest power pop – ‘Unwrap You at Christmas’ – while novelist Michael Chabon gets playful with Christmas iconography on ‘House of Broken Gingerbread’. Micky Dolenz sings lead on eight out of the 13 tracks, investing fully in the blues bluster of ‘Merry Christmas, Baby’, while the late Davy Jones sings two. And lest we pigeonhole The Monkees as 60s kitsch, ‘Angels We Have Heard on High’ sees Peter Tork expose the traditional tune’s folk skeleton. DOUG WALLEN CHRISTMAS PARTY THE MONKEES CD DOWNLOAD VINYL ALL MARIAH WANTS FOR CHRISTAMAS IS YOU!