atomic_fungus (atomic_fungus) wrote,

#636: Christmas Song is a disappointment.

How long have we been waiting for Mannheim Steamroller to come out with a new Christmas album--a really new one, I mean, not a "concert" disk or disk of "best of" tracks? How many years has it been?

I'd go and check, but I'm too disappointed in their most recent effort, Christmas Song, to bother. But since I need to know other details in order to write a proper review, a check of Wikipedia shows me that it's been six years since Christmas Extraordinaire, which was their last all-new album, in 2001. They came out with Christmas Celebration in 2004, but it had only two new tracks on it, out of 18, and otherwise it was old material. Since I had already bought the prior disks, I saved my money.

And I should have in this case, too. All the things that made their prior efforts so worthwhile are missing from this disk.

The arrangement for "Let It Snow" is an annoying combination of tin whistle, harpsichord, synth bass, and drum machine.

Track three, "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town", sounds almost the same; the arrangement is annoyingly similar to the first track. They obviously tried to get the same kind of whimsical treatment out of this song that they gave to "Little Drummer Boy"...except in the latter case it actually worked.

The second track is "The Christmas Song" with vocals done by Johnny Mathis. They've got a drum track in it, which really ruins the sound of the song; I can hear synth slides in it, which also don't make a lot of sense, musically speaking.

The fourth track, "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear", starts off with a marvelous simplicity--a woodwind I don't immediately recognize (maybe an alto saxophone) and acoustic guitar. (At my first listening, at this point, I thought, "Okay, now this has some promise." But:) Then it seques into some meaningless orchestral flourishes before going quiet and reprising the opening phrase of the song with the woodwind and harpsichord. Except for the flourishes, so far so good. They bring up the orchestra and finish the song; then more of the stupid flourishes, repeat and fade. *sigh* So much for "promising".

"Feliz Navidad"--WTF. It takes them almost a minute to get the song started, doing silly riffs on the melody; and then after a minute and a half of actual song, they go back to the stupid riffing again. Oh, and then a key change! That's original!

Then we have the first all-new track: "Catching Snowflakes On Your Tongue". Since it's original they can do whatever the hell they want with it and no one (least of all me) can complain about how they arranged it or anything. But guess what? It falls far short of the original tracks on their prior Christmas albums. It's not evocative of anything particularly Christmasy, that's for sure; it sounds like any of a myraid of other new age songs out there.

"Masters In This Hall" is the one Renaissance-style song on the album this time out. As is the case with prior albums it's an obscure track. It has neither the rousing "fun" feel of some of their "classic" tracks, nor does it have the "classic" feel. And any Renaissance or medieval feeling is utterly eradicated after the synth and brass sections fire up along with the drum machine. At that point it stops being a "Renaissance" track and starts being "the same old crap". *sigh*

"Above the Northern Lights" is the other vocal track. It's slow and monotonous.

"Frosty the Snowman" is arranged similarly to the way "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" was, on Christmas in the Aire (1995). Only not as entertaining.

They have a music-box version of the first phrase of "Traditions of Christmas" (from Fresh Aire Christmas). It's 32 seconds long.

Then they have Olivia Newton-John singing a vocal version of "Christmas Lullaby" from Christmas in the Aire. It was not a song that needed words.

They finish with "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" done on piano and bass, with a drum track in the background--slow, kind of bluesy or jazzy (or both)...but of course then the orchestra swells up and we make a huge production number out of it, and it just gets stupid after that.

All told, it's a disappointment. They are capable of better--much better--and the fact that they took six years to get another one out doesn't excuse it. I understand that they go on tour during the holiday season and do other things besides, but come on! It's been six freaking years and I know they have a big enough budget to make a decent album, so what the hell is with this crap?

Their first Christmas album, Christmas, was undoubtedly their best. Fresh Aire Christmas was almost as good and--in some ways--better. Though the later albums never managed to meet that standard, they still had their high points, and were worthwhile.

Unfortunately, Christmas Song falls very far short of the mark.

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