Christmas albums can be a number of different things. Sometimes they are fun novelties. Other times they are shameless cash grabs or a last-ditch effort to save a singer’s dwindling relevancy. Here are a few of this year’s holiday-themed records that are more worthy of your time.
“The Grinch EP” — Tyler, The Creator
Less than a decade ago, Tyler, the Creator was swallowing roaches, vomiting and hanging himself in the music video for “Yonkers.” Now he’s doing cross-promotional holiday music for an animated children’s movie. “Music Inspired by Illumination & Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch” is exactly what the name would suggest. Thankfully, the artist doesn’t sacrifice any of his signature style or lavish production for this commercial project.
Earlier this month, Tyler tweeted about the holiday-themed extended play, saying his goal was to make something that both young children and their parents could enjoy. The lyrics remain focused on wholesome topics such as hot chocolate, gift wrapping and cold winter weather. But Tyler doesn’t lean too hard into the festive theme either. The tracks feature a subtle Christmas tinge — with bells, light jazz drumming and a Charlie Brown-style piano — but the EP could just as easily be mistaken for a set of “Flower Boy” outtakes.
“Shatner Claus” — William Shatner
Most people know William Shatner for his iconic role as Captain Kirk in “Star Trek: The Original Series.” But the actor also made his foray into music around the same time with his 1968 debut, “The Transformed Man.” In more recent years, Shatner has maintained a steady output of bizarre and idiosyncratic spoken-word albums, mostly for his own cult audience. His dramatic cover of Pulp’s “Common People,” released back in 2004, has now become a classic in its own right.
This year marks the release of Shatner’s very first Christmas album, “Shatner Claus.” The actor/musician enlisted a wide variety of artists for this new album — ranging from the punk-rock icon Henry Rollins to the legendary prog rocker Rick Wakeman — to help create his own spoken-word take on a host of Christmas-time classics. Shatner’s absurd recitation reduces these holiday favorites to a mere novelty. But are songs like “Winter Wonderland” really meant to be taken that seriously?
“Love the Holidays” — Old 97’s
For the band’s first Christmas album, rather than rehashing a bunch of tired standards, the Texas-based Old 97’s opted to write a collection of entirely original holiday-themed songs. “Love the Holidays” features all the characteristics of a typical Old 97’s record: down-and-out characters, loud rock ‘n’ roll guitars and upbeat country rhythms. But this time around, the songs are all united through a fun-loving celebration of wintertime traditions.
On “Rudolph Was Blue,” lead singer Rhett Miller revisits the character of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, detailing his difficult search for romantic love. “Gotta Love Being A Kid (Merry Christmas)” works through the excitement of Christmases past, conjuring up an innocent and youthful holiday spirit. The band invigorates the traditional “Auld Lang Syne” for the album’s closer, bidding farewell to the old year and looking forward to the future.