Various Artists

There are but a handful of Christmas comps worthy of being stuffed into a stocking; most deserve having a sock stuck in 'em, as they're usually little more than label money-makers and time-killers stuck on a shelf in late October and thrown in the remainder bin come December 26. Especially awful are alternarock comps full of "ironic" versions of holiday standards and other irregulars; somewhere in hell, Satan's donning the Santa cap while treating his sweaty denizens to Sonic Youth's fuzzy-scuzzy version of Martin Mull's "Santa Doesn't Cop Out on Dope." Yeah, nothing says "Happy Birthday, Jesus" like Thurston Moore farting into a microphone.

But this is one Hanukkah Harry with a fetish for the good stuff: Vince Guaraldi, Motown, Phil Spector, Frank Sinatra, XTC's "Thanks for Christmas," Nat Cole, Aimee Mann's "Christmastime" and now this 13-song collection that contains its fair share of chestnuts, only a handful of which deserve a right roasting over an open fire (lookin' at you, Sarah McLachlan). Hard to knock a collection on which Coldplay's Chris Martin warbles through a heartbreakingly sincere "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," Ron Sexsmith does his best Paul Young while insisting, yeah, "Maybe This Christmas," Neil Finn shares his "Sweet Secret" and Jack Johnson frolics alongside "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." For some reason, Bright Eyes' "Blue Christmas" has incurred the wrath of many an uptight pop muso, but it's actually quite lovely--in a sort of unlistenable way, but still, better a barely sung bedroom recording than a barely awake studio outtake. Phantom Planet, doing "Winter Wonderland," really should break up, or at least apologize to Rivers Cuomo.


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