Cheesier than ripe Stilton: The festive albums that will drive you crackers
Christmas gem: Doris Day in her fifties prime
Fa la la la la, la la la la. Yes, it’s that special time of year again. The time when musical stars wrap a woolly scarf around their necks, clutch a pile of empty boxes tied up with big ribbons and pose in a polystyrene peanut snowstorm for the cover of their cash-in Christmas album.
They know that music holds a special place in the festive celebrations — and every year the battle is on to see which star can release the top-selling seasonal album, the most syrupy ballad and the downright cheesiest festive collection.
This year, culprits include Canadian crooner Michael Bubl, Sir Bruce Forsyth, teen hero Justin Bieber and X Factor singer Joe McElderry — each and every one of them getting their old chestnuts roasting on an open fire as they struggle to claim your Christmas heart.
Songs mauled within an inch of their lives include The Christmas Song (once again, the most popular choice), The Christmas Waltz and All I Want For Christmas.
All I want is some peace and quiet. But not before unwrapping the trusty cheese-o-meter. Then making a list. And checking it twice. And finding out who has been naughty and nice in the album charts . . .
JOE McELDERRY: CLASSIC CHRISTMAS
The budget didn’t run to a snowstorm on the CD cover, but please note there is a festive sprinkling of white stuff on the shoulders of Joe’s donkey jacket. Snow or dandruff Either way, the makers have saved a lot of money.
The X Factor winner has always looked like a cherubic choirboy; now he attempts to live up to that festive promise. Does he succeed Certainly from the opening songs of Mary’s Boy Child and White Christmas, Joe sounds all trembly, earnest and determined to please — just the way I like my men.
Twelve tracks feature a mixture of carols and pop classics as Joe makes sure that all bases, both holy and secular, are covered.
As befitting an X Factor alumni, he has to holler above a blizzard of lush over-production. Carols and classics alike are drenched in musical syrup, with great swoops of strings, wrenching key changes, thundering drums, rushes of blood to the head. It is exhausting.
There is a bagpipey version of In The Bleak Midwinter, lots of chirpy parup-a-pa-pumming on Drummer Boy and a version of Silent Night which gets lost in an over-egged, egg nog of an accompaniment.
Do you know something It is one of the most beautiful songs ever written. It doesn’t need showbiz stardust sprinkled all over it to make it appealing.
The stand-out track is a version of O Holy Night, in which McElderry duets with the highly regarded Mexican lyric tenor Rolando Villazon. Oo-er. Ay, caramba!
As duets go, it is the vocal equivalent of pairing David and Goliath. It’s almost cruel —like entering a puppy in the Grand National.
Still, this album has a certain something. Let’s call it charm. And anyway, my mum loves Joe, and that’s all that matters.
CHEESE-O-METER: Solid Stilton.
JUSTIN BIEBER: UNDER THE MISTLETOE
Spool back to a conversation I had earlier this week with my colleague Richard Littlejohn. ‘Is Justin Bieber the one who looks like Peter Noone’ he asks, which kind of sums up the Bieber phenomenon for the older generation.
He may be the biggest teen sensation pop star on the planet, but we don’t understand it. Who is Justin What’s going on What was all that fuss about his fringe And where is my lumbago ointment
The album sleeve has our 17-year-old hero hosed down in toffee-coloured blusher, looking all moody and sexy in the standard polystyrene peanut snowstorm.
His 11-track festive bumper pack opens with the Only Thing I Ever Get For Christmas. Yes, a very pleasant, slightly breathy festive pop song. Yet, what’s that annoying scraping noise in the background Either my copy is scratched or Lonnie Donegan and his washboard have been brought back from the dead.
After singing his Christmas hit, the annoyingly catchy Mistletoe, JB skips through the standard repertoire, including Santa Claus Is Coming To Town and The Christmas Song.
His version of Silent Night is pared down to the basics, with only a simple piano accompaniment. Yet his am-dram, end-of-term panto delivery of the lyric is even more annoying than the Joe McElderry version.
Elsewhere, he sings about someone called Jeck Frawst nipping at your nose. Who the heck is Jeck Frawst And please don’t all scream at once — leave that to the Bieberettes, or whatever they are called — but Justin also includes a rap version of Drummer Boy. Aaargh.
Special guests include Usher, Mariah Carey, Busta Rhymes, The Band Perry and Boyz II Men. OK, it might be ghastly for the non-Biebers, but fans get a lot of sparkle for their sixpence. Not as terrible and as cynical as you might imagine.
CHEESE-O-METER: A full-frontal attack of Monterey Jack.
GLEE: THE CHRISTMAS ALBUM VOLUME 2
Spin-off from the once-popular television series, now watched by no one because it’s on Sky. Don’t bother with this if you are not a Glee fan.
Meaningless to anyone who doesn’t know why Amber Riley (Mercedes) is singing All I Want For Christmas or how Lea Michelle and Darren Cris came to be singing a new song called Extraordinary Merry Christmas.
Elsewhere, plodding renditions of classics with very little to commend them.
CHEESE-O-METER: Primula Spread. Festive, but it’s not the real thing
CAROLE KING: A CHRISTMAS CAROLE
Carole, what is going on For a nice Jewish girl from New York, you seem the unlikeliest of stars to suddenly embrace the Christmas spirit.
A Christmas Carole is her first holiday record — and marks the first time she has released a studio-recorded collection of songs in over a decade.
To be frank, it’s all a bit dreary. A Christmas Carole seems to be a project masterminded by King’s daughter, Louise Goffin. It would have been more accurate, not to say honest, if it had been called A Christmas Louise. Louise produced the album, plays drums and sings lead vocal on a couple of the tracks. I rather wish she hadn’t. Louise also co-wrote the three original songs included here: New Year’s Day, Christmas Paradise and Christmas In The Air. I rather wish she ditto.
Her vocal and jazzy arrangement of the classic Chanukah Prayer could empty a room. There is even a calypso number somewhere in the mix.
I adore Carole King, but if I was troubled and need a helping hand, this is not what I would listen to. Just a little bit too much of a daughterly dirge.
CHEESE-O-METER: Goat’s Curd.
JOHN RUTTER: THE COLOURS OF CHRISTMAS
Hugely popular Christmas fare from conductor John Rutter. Here he masses his troops and fires all the big guns; The Bach Choir and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, plus guest artists Over The Bridge.
It is classy and faultless; the arrangements are beautiful; the choir’s voices are crystal clear and plangent. This CD features all new recordings of much-loved music such as The Twelve Days Of Christmas, Deck The Hall and Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.
There are also soaring renditions of favourite carols such as Once In Royal David’s City and O Come, All Ye Faithful.
In all, 23 bumper tracks! Jazzy, festive and who is complaining Me, for is it sacrilege to say that their version of Ding Dong! Merrily On High sounds a bit too Swingle Singers for comfort
I’ll get my coat.
CHEESE-O-METER: Totally Double Gloucester.
BRUCE FORSYTH: THESE ARE MY FAVOURITES
He could have subtitled it And This Is My Granddaughter. For yes, beloved granddaughter Sophie Purdie, 20, turns up on track nine to sing Smile with her old grampy.
Yet if we can’t forgive Sir Brucie a bit of festive nepotism at Christmas time, when can we
This collection of his favourite songs does not include Christmas tunes, rather the music that has meant most to him over his 70 years in showbusiness.
Don’t cry, but it sounds rather like a final farewell from a much loved entertainer. Gosh, he has been around for a long time — as this collection reminds us.
He includes Give Me The Simple Life because it reminds him of the time he was in the American Red Cross and sang it to the troops before D-Day. A new arrangement has been ghosted onto a recording of Paper Moon, which he sang at the Palladium with Nat King Cole in 1959.
All Brucie’s little vocal tics, his nasal dominance, his little speech mannerisms are there in his singing voice. To hear him is to see him perform in the mind’s eye — which must bring joy to millions.
Thirteen classic tracks and the last one, his version of Barry Manilow’s I Made It Through The Rain, made me quite tearful.
Still, I Made It Through The Album. A feat in itself.
CHEESE-O-METER: Cheesy Short Straws.
MICHAEL BUBL: CHRISTMAS
Oh Michael. Judging by the pictures on the sleeve of your album, you have just been caught in the same polystyrene peanut snowstorm as Justin Bieber. Shame!
But we are awarding Mr Buble-Wrap extra cheese points for also posing with a pile of empty boxes tied up with ribbon. Is there a bigger Christmas clich Yes. It has to be Michael Bubl singing I’ll Be Home For Christmas.
He also puts it down — as they say on The X Factor — on Cold December Night, Blue Christmas, Silent Night and Ave Maria among others.
Lovely vocals, great production, 15 sparkling tracks. His high-octane duet of Jingle Bells with the retro vocal trio The Puppini Sisters, wanders dangerously close to chipmunk territory — but we can forgive him for that.
Merry Christmas, Mr Jazzy Patent Leather Shoes. And may all your chipmunks be white.
CHEESE-O-METER: Walnut-Studded Red-Blooded Leicester.
DORIS DAY: THE CHRISTMAS ALBUM
I know. It is not even a new recording or release. Yet I couldn’t resist including Doris Day, even if just to hear her crisp and lovely vocals slicing through the classic Silver Bells.
Yes, soon it will be Christmas time in the city with 15 — count ’em —non-stop festive classics from Ms Day.
She is going home for Christmas, if only in her dreams, but not before noting that the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful, meanwhile, check out the frosted window panes, candles gleaming inside, the painted candy canes on the tree. Santa’s on his way, he’s filled his sleigh with things for you and for me — you know the rest.
There is something about her voice that is timeless. She exudes such wholesome blonde goodness, not to mention the promise of joy.
Music to make mince pies to.
CHEESE-O-METER: Cracker Barrel all the way.
HARRY CONNICK JNR: WHAT A NIGHT! A CHRISTMAS ALBUM
Again, not entirely a new release, but still a Christmas bestseller. This 2008 seasonal offering is included by popular demand by the ladies drinking Baileys on the back of the bus. For Harry Connick Jnr, the New Orleans-born pianist and singer is just what every girl needs in December.
His music swings, the vocals are seductive, the production sparkles and only he can inject a shiver of romance into songs such as It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas and Winter Wonderland.
So put on Harry, throw another log on the fire and spark up the candles. For anyone who wants to hear a rich and chocolately voice after the cocoa powder of the chart stars.
CHEESE-O-METER: Full-fat Camembert! He even sings Jingle Bells.