Various Artists | An Alternative Christmas (Alternative Addiction)

cd_alt-xmas.jpgIf you’re a holiday sap like me and are looking more for background music than something front and center, this is a good choice.







I get all sappy this time of year. I gravitate toward those stupid Christmas movies on Lifetime and listen to cheeseball holiday songs. In other words, my tolerance for mediocrity in the arts goes way, way down.

This year brings yet another pop music release in the form of An Alternative Christmas. The title’s misleading, as these songs are more AAA than anything resembling alternative/active rock. That said, there are a great number of bland—but, given the season, entirely listenable—Christmas offerings.

Take the first two tracks by relative unknowns, "Our December" by Thriving Ivory and "Anywhere but Here" by Safety Suit. Neither one is likely to encourage you to run right out and buy the back catalog of either band, but nor is it anywhere near offensive enough to have you reaching for the "next" button. Everything you love about unchallenging AAA music is here: overblown, anthemic arrangements; average vocals; soaring bridges; warm and fuzzy sentiments.

Next up is "Silent Night," an old standard performed by Lifehouse. Somehow, despite (again) the middling treatment the band gives this song, it’s an improvement; being a well-known song, there’s only so much you can do to water it down or ruin it.

Whoever Ernie Halter is gives us "Angels We Have Heard on High," a soft soul presentation; Better Than Ezra’s "Merry Christmas Eve" follows, and while I washed my hands of this band years ago, there’s still something familiar (and yes, I’ll say it, inviting) about Kevin Griffin’s nasally pipes. With its underlying rockness and obvious restraint, "Happy Holidays" by Honor by August sounds like it wants to be a Temple of the Dog song…when, really, no song should ever be a Temple of the Dog song, not even Temple of the Dog songs.

Needtobreathe obviously listened to too much Lenny Kravitz before recording "Go Tell It on the Mountain"; by contrast, Honeyhoney’s "The Naughtiness of Me" hits home in the way all modern indie/pop female artists do today (that’s not a bad thing). The bells that kick off Patent Pending’s "She’s a Ho Ho Ho Merry Christmas" are misleading; they sway classic, yet the subject (obviously) is very of the moment, as the song soon veers into pop-punk territory; the humor of the title is so obvious, it’s surprising no one’s thought of it before. Still, finally, here we have a song with teeth; hooray!

Ryan Star’s "River" is a melancholy offering, hitting home in the way all modern indie/pop male artists do today (and again, that’s not a bad thing); the instrumentation and Star’s voice are so stark it easily rises above the masses.

Two no-no’s appear late on the album, the first being Shinedown’s cover of "Happy X-Mas (War Is Over)." (Is it weird that I just watched the movie about Mark David Chapman last night?) My reasoning, you may think, is fuzzy, but hear me out: The original John Lennon version is classic, of course, but I maintain that only one good cover can be made of any song. That, my friends, was fulfilled in 1990 by a little band out of Wales called The Alarm. Any other covers are null and void, in my opinion, and thoroughly unnecessary.

The second improper cover occurs three songs later. This time, it’s Detroit band Schaeffer (whose contribution I really wanted to like, as I actually saw this unsigned band a couple years back) covering Wham’s "Last Christmas." Again, that song’s been covered to near perfection by Jimmy Eat World; all other bands just need to steer clear and make their own legacy elsewhere.

Kill the Alarm (oddly; see above) gives us a cheeseball interpretation of "Winter Wonderland"; the pop-and-slightly punk tinge they put on the song just doesn’t work. Evans Blue’s "Oh Holy Night," however, works, and works well. (This is a song that anyone can cover and I will love; some songs are just like that.) These guys keep the reverence of the song while adding their own spin; nice.

Negative Space’s "I’ll Be Home" is a solid original against a sea of covers and complacency; this song deserves to live on through Muzak playlists years from now. Closing the disc is 16 Frames, with their stripped-down (and sorta watered down) delivery of "For Christmas." This song sounds like it wanted to be something, to define itself; however, the soft-rock anthem delivery and unremarkable vocals bog it down.

My advice? If you’re a holiday sap like me and are looking more for background music than something front and center, An Alternative Christmas is a good choice. If you’ve got higher expectations for your Christmas tunes, dig up the Bright Eyes Christmas album and enjoy. Then grab "I’ll Be Home" off iTunes and start your own tradition. C | Laura Hamlett

RIYL: Christmas tunes, unchallenging AAA music, Y-98

About Laura Hamlett 467 Articles
Laura Hamlett is the Managing Editor of PLAYBACK:stl. In a past life, she was also a music publicist and band manager. Besides music, books, and other forms of popular culture, she's a fan of the psychology behind true crime and violent criminals. Ask her about mass murder...if you dare.

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