LondonNet Album Review
Barenaked for the Holidays
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Cheer On Christmas
The Barenaked Ladies give a little this holiday season, with a festive album that cranks the hearts of adoring fans and gives everybody else a delighful surprise.
First impressions can be damning, but in the case of the Barenaked Ladies’ 8th studio album, they can be deceptive. Usually, holiday albums or similar theme albums (a covers album for instance) fall flat for lack of originality. The-weird-little-band-from-Canada-that-could has proved its doubters wrong, however. They manage to put quite a new spin on the stale, slick commercial fare of holiday albums by combining their sometimes serious-sometimes screwball takes on traditional Christmas and Hanukkah songs with their own new Hanukkah, Christmas, and winter songs.
The album begins dubiously with “Jingle Bells”, a song that combines BNL’s serious side and screwball nature into one song to mixed results. After a tender opening featuring almost whispered vocals by Steven Page, mid-way through the song suddenly breaks open into some sort of grandiose parody that seems more appropriate for a weaker Weird Al Yankovic album. The end result is a song that treads the line between amusing and annoying, particularly when Page breaks into the old children’s rhyme of “Jingle bells, Batman smells, Robin laid an egg.” The spirit improves immensely quickly with a somewhat, but warm and amusing original “Green Christmas” about not having a white Christmas (probably a rare occurrence in Canada). While not an instant classic, it’s catchy enough to sing along with. The band stretches the constrictions of a Christmas album early with Page’s sometimes a bit too precious, but genuinely heartfelt “Hanukkah Blessings” featuring a few lines in Yiddish.
The rest of the originals are pleasant enough, but mostly forgettable, an exception being keyboardist Kevin Hearn’s original contribution, “Christmastime, Oh yeah”, which in spite of somewhat cheesy lyrics overcomes it with a sweet, ethereal melody almost nice enough to fit in on a Deathcab for Cutie album.
A true seasonal gift is the surprisingly modest and sincere version of “Do they know it’s Christmas?”, a song that sadly usually cannot be associated with an empathic message but a massively extravagant platform for celebrities to show they care. Here it does the job it’s meant to. There are a few superfluous touches, but Robertson and Page’s vocals treat the song with an inspiringly new feel.
Rather than trailing off towards the end of the album, BNL kick into another gear. “I Have a Little Dreidel” is a bit too short, but a raucous romp that one cannot help dancing too, regardless of religious orientation. Never afraid to lighten the mood, in the most unexpectedly hilarious moments of the album, BNL sing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus and turn “Deck the Halls” into a tuneful recitation of “Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young”. In the end, the band validate themselves and sate their fans’ serious sides with a powerful rock ballad version of “Auld Lang Syne” that fittingly closes things.
Barenaked for the Holidays is proof that you can’t judge an album by a genre. Its eclectic nature stops things from getting stale. BNL haven’t had a permanent lineup change since 1996 and only one during their lifespan as a band, which contributes to the warm, informal, family feel of the whole affair. It still can only be listened to during the holiday season, but its mix will no doubt cause it to endure and earn it a permanent place near the stereo of all holiday music fans, regardless of what they think of the Barenaked Ladies.