Bob Wire's Off White Christmas v. Bob Dylan
Even if you love Bob Dylan, his clunky 2009 Christmas album isn't listenable. His gravelly affect renders "O Come All Ye Faithful" unintentionally humorous, while "Here Comes Santa Claus" sounds downright menacing. The remedy? Off White Christmas, Bob Wire's new album with longtime buddy Chip Whitson featuring funny originals.
If you've read Wire's column online, you know he's a crafty wordsmith with an affinity for puns. And his twangy, rockin' live shows get people wildly dancing. Off White Christmas captures all those aspects. "Let's Have a Credit Card Christmas" is a swingin' dig at Americans who "let that plastic fly" until it's Chapter 13 time. "My Ex Miss Carol" tells of an ex who falls for a dude in a Northface cap who has lift tickets. (How Missoula!) "I'd Rather Be Alone" could be a lost Dwight Yoakam track. He sings, "If you like him better, baby, that's alright. / I'll just use this time to stare at the walls, / Toast to you while he decks your halls." "You Ain't Gettin' Shit For Christmas" is perfect for fed up parents.
Most holiday humor albums bomb. This one is slick as hell. The Chuck Berry guitar and backup from family and friends gives it good cheer. But it's Bob Wire's smartassery that makes it irresistible for bah-humbug cynics. (Erika Fredrickson)
The Vandals' Oi To the World v. Andy Williams
My father's music collection contains over 300 albums: Led Zeppelin IV, Born In the USA and 298 Oak Ridge Boys records. The other one is The Andy Williams Christmas Album—the 1963 croonstravaganza best known for "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year." I heard "MWTotY" eight times last week, including twice at the dentist's. No one I have met is an actual Andy Williams fan, yet we have made his pathologically smooth voice a sound of the season. When we hear "White Christmas" with Mel Tormé, we shudder and remember to buy something—anything—for Grandma.
The name for this sensation—associating something that sucks with an important aspect of our culture that may also suck—is kitsch. My generation loves kitsch, but Andy Williams doesn't work on us for the same reason that certain types of penicillin don't cure VD anymore. I prefer Oi To the World, the Vandals' Christmas album, which is every bit as cheesy and formulaic as Andy Williams. From the frantic "A Gun for Christmas" to the oddly touching "Christmas Time for My Penis," the Vandals serve cheese and formula I understand. Someday, people will think it's as stupid as Andy Williams. I hope. (Dan Brooks)
Jackson 5 v. Justin Bieber's Under the Mistletoe
Because I love much the same music that 12-year-old girls love, I am fully qualified to compare and contrast two tracks from Justin Bieber's Under the Mistletoe with two from the Jackson 5 Christmas Album. Before you go pooh-poohing Biebs, remember that he is Usher's guy; Usher don't even know you.
"Little Drummer Boy." J-Biebs delivers a synthetic version of this classic. Not even an appearance by professional guest-rhymer Busta Rhymes can compete with the Jacksons' elegiac harmonies and live instrumentation. Biebs gives M.J. and God shout outs during his rap breakdown, but the beat boxing distracts from a song that should be pregnant with gravitas. Winner: J5.
"Santa Claus is Coming to Town." Biebs often confuses saying "shake it, shake it, baby" with actually shaking it. The kid knows what good music sounds like, though. He apes Jermaine Jackson's bass lines and a pip of Tito's funky guitar strumming. However, it also evokes an LSD trip in which everyone's voices sound like Twiki's from "Buck Rogers." In contrast, little M.J.'s wails splendidly crack like a middle-aged Diana Ross, making the Jacksons' version the definitive version. Winner: J5
In sum, Biebs's desire to update holiday tunes is laudable, but so is a good combover. (Jason McMackin)
James Brown v. My Morning Jacket EP
In the battle to prove that hipsters have feelings, My Morning Jacket has released their third Christmas album. You don't usually think of MMJ as trite, yet their version of "I'll Be Home for Christmas" just substitutes narco-sludge for sugar: The song still sucks. The group does fine with Charles Brown's "Please Come Home for Christmas," a better number and hence more bulletproof, but then "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" evaporates right before your eyes.
Even Otis Redding bloodied his head on "White Christmas." If the problem is Christmas dreck, the solution is James Brown, who also put out three Christmas albums, moving from semisweet soul to funk tighter than a stuck lid. His "Let's Make Christmas Mean Something This Year" combines impromptu wackiness with larynx-peeling screams and soothing backup singers. His semi-autobiographical "Santa Claus, Go Straight To The Ghetto" is even snappier. Brown had been a poor black orphan reared in whorehouses and reform schools of the Deep South. Christmas, with its reversals of fortune, was his kind of holiday, and he took it seriously—right up until he died, in 2006, on Christmas Day. (Robert Meyerowitz)