12 Days Of xMas Music: Day 1

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Various – Just Can’t Get Enough: New Wave XMas

I am normally quite a Grinch around this time of year. But for whatever reason, I’ve got a soft spot for xMas music… just not before the first of December and preferably limited even further to the two weeks prior to the holiday. In keeping with that time frame, I’ve decided to do reviews for twelve holiday albums this year (since twelve is a traditionally xMassy number).
Having come of age in the ‘80s, I love New Wave – I think that’s been established if you read this blog with any regularity. So it made sense to start with the excellent Rhino Records compilation Just Can’t Get Enough: New Wave XMas. I have to admit that I like that they use “XMas” in the title. In the end, we get an hour’s worth of seasonal originals and reimagined classics.
I only have a handful of these songs elsewhere in my collection: offerings from The Pogues, Pretenders, They Might Be Giants, and “Little Drummer Boy (Peace On Earth)” as performed by Bing Crosby and David Bowie are all XMas stalwarts. Still, it is extremely nice to have all of these other tracks – many of them fairly obscure – collected in one place, starting with “Thanks For Christmas” by XTC but released under the fictional band name The Three Wisemen, followed by “Christmas Day” which, while leaning a little too heavily on Christian mythology for my tastes, is still by Squeeze so I put up with it.
More my speed is the rarity “XMas At K-Mart” by Root Boy Slim & The Sex Change Band, an underrated modern classic that truly captures the mercenary commercialism that has come to define the holiday. “Rudolph The Manic Reindeer” is Los Lobos’s zydeco-accented instrumental take on the ninth reindeer’s classic theme song. Miracle Legion offers up a throwaway version of “Little Drummer Boy” that is absolutely superfluous next to the Bing & Bowie version included here. Eighties one-hit wonder Timbuk3 contributes “All I Want For Christmas,” a moderately clever original that sounds like an R.E.M. b-side (this is meant as a strong complement; I like this song a lot).
The Damned’s Captain Sensible pops up with the relatively bleak “One Christmas Catalogue” and it makes me realize that an awful lot of the holiday music I own is of the sad-bastard variety where the magic of the season is lost on the song’s narrator. Conversely, I realize that there’s very little of that negativity in the discs I’ve collected for this blog mini-series, so I hope I won’t dampen your cheer too severely (but you might want to skip the next few songs just to be on the safe side). They Might Be Giants remind us that jealousy and insecurity are gifts that just keep on giving (as is infidelity). And Throwing Muses’ dark “Santa Claus” comes off as ominous and menacing. Wall Of Voodoo serves up the typically off-kilter “Shouldn’t Have Given Him A Gun For Christmas” which, sadly, doesn’t tie into Ralphie’s travails in A Christmas Story. “Christmas Time” by Chris Stamey Group is a fairly maudlin mid-tempo affair. The disc closes with TMBG side-project Mono Puff’s “Careless Santa.”
So, basically, everything after the good version of “Little Drummer Boy” is a bit of a downer. That said, this remains one of my favorite collections of xMas music, hence being the first one I review here. If you can find a copy you should definitely pick it up.
Tune in for tomorrow for the next installment in the 12 Days Of xMas Music.

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Until next time, keep those discs spinning. Merry Christmas and all the rest…

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