Ah Christmas. ‘Tis truly the season for worshipping, spending time with friends and family, enjoying a myriad of beloved traditions, experiencing the joy of giving gifts to those in our lives, and — yes — putting up with lots and lots of really shitty music. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. I find it very sadly ironic that this season, which, for many of us, is supposed to be a reminder and celebration of all that is good and holy in our lives, is characterized by some of the shallowest music you can imagine.
Case in point: I went out shopping with my wife the other night to an upscale clothing store. And what should I hear over the store’s stereo but one treacly, commercialized slab of pap after another. Either it was some flash-in-the-pan starlet doing her best to record a sexed-up version of some “traditional” holiday standard, or a faceless boy band earnestly wishing to spend a nice winter evening with their babies curled up by the fire, or some other interpretation of a classic that was sucked free of any spirit or meaning back in the 1980s.
After awhile, I just had to block it out lest my cynicism reawaken my inner Grinch, but I wouldn’t at all be surprised if a one or two tracks from Merry Mixmas — always nice to see the marketing department earning their Christmas bonus — piped in over the speakers. As the title suggests, it’s a collection of Christmas classics remixed by a slew of DJs you’ve probably never heard of. And as you might imagine, the results are almost uniformly bland.
Either the piece is left fairly unmolested, such that the DJ’s remix efforts seem wholly redundant — does “Baby It’s Cold Outside” really benefit from slightly reshuffled beat and a few extra orchestral hits, or “Sleigh Ride” from some faceless R&B slink? — or an already annoying classic like Eartha Kitt’s “Santa Baby” is somehow made even more annoying. And in some cases, a truly timeless classic, such as Vince Guaraldi’s “Christmas Time Is Here,” is absolutely gutted by pointless studio wizardry.
There are a few pieces that survive the process, where the remix actually adds something to the song’s aura. The disc starts off with Bent’s very strong version of “Winter Wonderland,” which succeeds in giving the song a shimmery, haziness that lends it a nostalgic air, and makes it sound as if the whole thing is glinting off of clean ice and newfallen snow.
AwayTEAM’s remix of Lou Rawls’ “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” is a tastefully minimal affair, the ringing tones, sparse horn accompaniments, and crisp programming wisely acquiescing to Rawls’ voice. And though Ursula 1000’s job on Julie London’s “I Want You For Christmas” might raise an eyebrow at first, it soon becomes apparent than it’s an effortless slice of breezy pop à la Saint Etienne — and you can never go wrong if you sound like Saint Etienne.
I have no problem with a Christmas remix record in theory. But the remixes need to be unique and clever, casting the songs in a brand new light and causing me to see them in a way I might not have before. That, or highlighting whatever might be good and golden with the songs in the first place, latching onto one particular element or facet, and bringing it to light.
But by and large, Merry Mixmas is forgettable, obviously churned out to fill a niche (and, in a few weeks, “Used” Bins in record stores everywhere), and reeking of assembly line workmanship. Sure, it’s fun and bouncy and might make for great background music for your next Christmas cocktail party. But there are those of us who prefer this season to be something more than just “fun” and “stylish,” and as a result, would like to celebrate it with music that’s more than just party mix filler.