Mariah Carey's "Merry Christmas II You." Because her first one was "Merry Christmas." Get it?
Another year, another slew of Christmas and holiday-themed albums. This year brings the “gift” of internet sensation Susan Boyle for a second time, while TV stars like “American Idol’s” Katharine McPhee, the cast from “Glee” and featured crooners from “The Sing Off” have their own crop.
Look for unusual takes on classics from ilk like Pink Martini and 11 Acorn Lane, and for Mariah Carey trying to top her own classic material.
Most Adult Contemporary and Adult Album stations that flip to Christmas music start around Thanksgiving: see if you can name songs from these artists as they come on.
“Glee: The Music, The Christmas Album” – Last Christmas, the shiny-faced kids from “Glee” brought us, well, “Last Christmas.” Considering the cast has released some of the best-selling songs this year from its second season, it only makes sense they cash in on some Christmas spirit. That previous song is on there, as is a k.d. lang-enhance “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” and takes on classics from “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” to “god Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. Several of these songs will be featured in – you guessed it – the “Glee” Christmas episode, to air on Dec. 5.
Mariah Carey, “Merry Christmas II You” – One of the singing diva’s biggest and most enduring tracks of all time is “All I Want For Christmas,” so we don’t blame her for trying to top it. With a different version of it. There’s a nicer, slower-burning version on here, plus four other originals co-penned by newly preggers Carey. “Oh Santa!” has been pushed as the single, with some traditional carols and cold-weather tunes buttressing it. There’s even a cute Vince Guiraldi “Charlie Brown Christmas” medley thrown in. Think more contemporary R&B than the sizzling Carey of late.
Susan Boyle, “The Gift” – This “Britain’s Got Talent” viral star made it onto airwaves and into stockings with her serene take on “Silent Night” last year. This year, she’s got a whole album devoted to inspirational and holiday tunes. It’s kind of rinky-dink, antiqued takes on the usual classics, with covers of Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” and Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” thrown on there because why the hell not.
Jackie Evancho, “O Holy Night” -- To call Evancho a soprano is a little bit of a farce; guys, she's ten years old. She came to fame similarly to Boyle’s entry, that is, she was a mini-star on “America’s Got Talent,” back in August (she also released an album last year). “Night” sounds just how the cover looks.
The Priests, “Noel” – Your mom is gonna love this, and I don’t mean that entirely facetiously. The Priests are an opera/classical “crossover” like her pretend boyfriend Josh Groban only, like, three dudes. And their takes on these carols are actually very inspired and easy to listen to, with exception “Little Drummer Boy,” which is hilariously crafted after the Bing Crosby and David Bowie version.
Bryn Terfel, “Bryn’s Christmas” – Wagner, Mozart… “White Christmas.” This classical baritone is used to playing the villain in his operas, but gets tender for the holidays with only a couple tracks in German.
Pink Martini, “Joy to the World” – This is one big “duh” for a Christmas music matchup, as this jazz and pop music mini-big-band does it up classically and campy in eight different languages, with help from J-Pop star Saori Yuki and Ari Shapiro from NPR (?!). And the CD looks like a dang Christmas card, so cute. This reminds me – why hasn’t Nouvelle Vague or Brazilian Girls jumped on the Christmas Choo-choo?
Annie Lennox, “A Christmas Cornucopia” – Like Peter Gabriel, Annie Lennox can’t help but to bad-ass up anything she touches, and has done so for decades. Her tenor-alto brings little jagged edges to songs like “Angels We Have Heard on High” and other, streaming on her site. And, hey, just today, Lennox premiered her video for “God Rest Ye Maerry Gentlemen,” which looks like an old-timey moving Christmas card.
Jessica Simpson, “Happy Christmas” – This is Simpson’s second try at a successful Christmas set, with 2004’s “Rejoyce: The Christmas Album” barely ringing any bells with its glitzy takes on holiday favorites. Willie Nelson shows up to help out on “Merry Christmas Baby,” the Simpson camp trying to further the impression she’s a country artist. Even if you don’t get the record, she’ll be unavoidable at this year’s televised Rockefeller Tree Lighting Ceremony on NBC and at Macy’s stores everywhere.
“The Sing Off: Harmonies for the Holidays” – The second season of this NBC singing competition show starts in the first week of December, and thus comes with it a full set of all 10 competing groups taking on, y’know, harmonies. Get it? Thks for the mmrs, Straight No Chaser.
11 Acorn Lane, “Happy Holy Days” – There’s a lot of instruments on here. And a lot of styles. It’s very modern, and kind of a mess. But it’s a good change of pace if you’re tired of Bing, Manheim Steamroller and the rest.
Wilson Phillips, “Christmas in Harmony” – In some ways, this is just as much a kids’ Christmas Album. Very straightforward, upbeat, high-register, Christmas-lovin’ smiley-ness. Opening track “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day” could sell some Walmart crap or some Radioshack stuff.
Train, “Shake Up Christmas” [Single] – Speaking of selling of stuff, this will be touting Coca-cola all season long.
Katharine McPhee, “Christmas Is the Time… (To Say I Love You)” – Thank you, Katharine McPhee for keeping it classy. This collection is mostly piano-led, with only a few modern flourishes on tracks like the title song and “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve.”
Indigo Girls, “Holly Happy Days” - Amy Ray and Emily Saliers gracefully include a Hanukkah song and three originals in this 12-song recording, which is signature Indigo Girls top to finish. Another set that could have used “Harmony” in the title.
“Now That’s What I Call Christmas 4” – The mix of the usual pop artists (Britney, Rihanna, Lady Gaga) with the old classics (Frank, Bing, Elvis). Some new, mostly old, only if you’ve run out of your own ideas for a mix.
Lady Antebellum, “A Merry Little Christmas” [EP] – This year’s hottest country group put out this six-song set out exclusively via Target, and included one original “On This Winter’s Night” in the group. And wouldn’t you know? “All I Want For Christmas Is You” is on there too.
Take 6, “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” – Sorry, “Glee,” Take 6 has been doing the vocal group thing for way longer. And “The Sing Off” better watch its tail. This Christian group gets creative, though it may be more cerebral than celebratory.
Celtic Thunder, “Celtic Thunder Christmas” – Yet another TV-bolstered, jazz-inflected vocal group, though this Irish group tackles more secular Christmas tunes than sacred. And, yes, they added a chick for “Baby It’s Cold Outside.”
Aliqua, “All I Want” – Aaaaand this one’s all-female. This is far more choral-based than Glee club, but expect smooth takes with orchestral backings.
The Irreconcilables, “Merry Ex-Mas: Holiday Songs for the Divorced and Soon to Be” – “Frosty My Ex-Wife,” “Santa Claus Is Foolin’ Around,” “The Twelve Days of Christmas (My True Love Took From Me).” Sounds just how you think something like this would sound.
Loretta Lynn gets made over by Reba. Reba sings Beyonce. Kanye helping out on Thirty Seconds to Mars. Kid Cudi releases sophomore set on Kanye's imprint.
There's a lot of crossover in the new music releases for the week of Nov. 9, including a pair of high-profile compilations: the next installment of the "NOW" hits compilation series and a stellar tribute to Loretta Lynn. Cee Lo is a "Killer"Â while GWAR promises a "Bloody Pit" and Twista threatens a "Storm." How aggro!
Check out the major new albums hitting the shelves this week:
Susan Boyle, â€œThe Giftâ€ (Syco Music/Sony) â€“ The Scottish internet sensation is back and while her first effort last year brought "Silent Night" as its yultide greeting, this sophomore set is chock full of Christmas classics. And remember that debacle with Lou Reed and SuBo's cover of "Perfect Day?" The Velvet Underground legend has gone out of his way to make it up to her, by directing the video for the cover, released this week. HowÂ punk rock.
Cee Lo Green, â€œThe Lady Killerâ€ (Elektra/Atlantic) â€“ Not every song on the set sounds like viral hit "F*ck You," but the soul's all the same. The Gnarls Barkley/Goodie Mob member mixes Motown with '70s soul, hip-hop and dance for this soul set. Read our interview with Cee Lo here.
GWAR, â€œBloody Pit of Horrorâ€ (Metal Blade) â€“ It's hard to believeÂ this vet metal group is from Virginia, and not an actual bloody pit of horror, with this newest effort as a reminder. Get ready for zombies, genocide, t*ts and many slain fans.
Hellogoodbye, â€œWould It Kill You?â€ (Wasted Summer/Rocket Science) â€“ Want starter cash for your album? Fund it yourself. That's what Rocket Science founder Kevin Day did with his dancey-rock band for this sophomore album. "When We First Met"Â is the single currently in rotation from that album; the group may even get an extra charge from touring with 3Oh!3 all this month.
Jamiroquai, â€œRock Dust Light Starâ€ (Mercury) --Â Sorry, America: This album is import-only at this point, but funky "White Knuckle Ride" and forthcoming single "Blue Sky" is enough to throw-down extra for air mail. Jay Kay co-produced the set with Charlie Russell and Brad Spence.
Dave Matthews Band, â€œLive in New York Cityâ€ (RCA) â€“ DMB is taking 2011 off in terms of touring, so it seems only right that they treat fans with yet another double-disc concert set.
Reba McEntire, â€œAll the Women I Amâ€ (Valory Music Group) â€“ Country star Reba plays many roles in her life -- mother, wife, business woman, writer, singer -- so she crafted a whole album around the many "women" she must be. Its led by â€œTurn on the Radioâ€ and includes her version of Beyonce's â€œIf I Were a Boy,â€ performed earlier this year unplugged on CMT.
Aaron Neville, â€œI Know Iâ€™ve Been Changedâ€ (EMI Gospel) â€“ Same Neville you know, with the added bonus from producer and very-cool-man Joe Henry.
Twista, â€œThe Perfect Stormâ€ (Get Money Gang Entertainment) -- Twista. Storm. I see what you did there. The lightning-fast Chicago rapper gets a little help from his friends like Chris Brown, Raekwon, T-Pain and Waka Flocka Flame. Rumor had it he was shopping it to G.O.O.D. too. Maybe next time.
Underoath, â€œ"Ã˜ (Disambiguation)" (Solid State/Tooth & Nail) â€“ Christian metalcore may sound a bit obscure, but remember that this troupe nearly took No. 1 on The Billboard 200 before ("Define the Great Line" made it to No. 2 in 2008). Expect Reba and Boyle to get a run for her money to the top next week.
Various, â€œNOW Thatâ€™s What I Call Music! 36â€ (Capitol) â€“ At this point, there's no escaping these hits compilations, and with artists on the tracklist like Katy Perry, Ke$ha, Maroon 5, Chris Brown, Sugarland and other chart-toppers, expect to see "Now 36" in a Christmas stocking and sale aisle near you this holiday season.
Thirty Seconds to Mars, â€œThis Is War: Deluxe Editionâ€ (Virgin) â€“ This previously released album gets a makeover with a DVD of music videos and the CD with three bonus tracks, including a Kanye West collab on â€œHurricane.â€
Media and character assassination weren't unusual topics for the late pop star, who made his frustrations known in hits like "Scream" and "Leave Me Alone." But the newly released song -- now streaming for the week on michaeljackson.com -- seems to be going a step further down the victim path. The King of Pop refers to himself in the third person, claiming that everyone wants "a piece of Michael Jackson," as it bops along to a New Jack Swing beat. Michael Jackson sounds as obsessed with Michael Jackson as everyone else.
The term "breaking" in "Breaking News" has him put in a vulnerable state, of his psyche and tolerance becoming broken down. But it's more the song itself that's broken.
The lyrics leave the listener a little dry, like weak punches at a straw man, as synthetic horns and strings sections artificially amp up the melody. It's chicken and egg with what could be a Justin Timberlake track from the early 2000s, though according to Sony/Epic, the song was recorded around 2007. The vocals -- especially during the verses -- sound like a badly compressed mp3 rip from a large file, the notes all watery and overly tinkered-with. The chorus is catchy but ultimately empty, given that the songs has two dynamics: play at 10, and stop. A couple nostalgic "whooos" are thrown in for good measure, like a stamp of approval, although something tells me that Jackson would have never given it the nod.
His family feels the same way. Jackson's father Joe's attorneys have released a statement indicated that the estate doesn't feel the song is a completed work and that its release would have gone against the singer's wishes were he still alive. Mom Katherine is reportedly outraged. Fans are claiming online that the vocals don't sound like Jackson's at all. Some feel that there shouldn't be the new album -- "Michael," out Dec. 14 -- at all.
However, Epic says the label has "complete confidence in the results of our extensive research, as well as the accounts of those who were in the studio with Michael, that the vocals on the new album are his own."
That all being said, if the Jackson family didn't think posthumous releases would demean his legendary body of work, then they should have either known fully what tracks they were sitting on or not entered into the $200 deal with Sony at all. "This Is It" feature the same incomplete state of Jackson's abilities, where were the complaints then? "Confidence" seems to be a farce at this point.
Anna Kendrick has skills. I mean, beyond acting skills. She has the pow-power of sending cosmic energy into mens' minds and capturing their souls in a different dimension, with the help of her thuggy friends.
Wait, what was that? Nonsense? Yeah
Just watch the video for LCD Soundsystem's "Pow Pow," which means those in debt to the beautiful "Up in the Air" actress suffer ridiculous special effects. It's a strange contrast to the party nature of the track, culled from James Murphy and Co.'s latest "This Is Happening."
As previously reported, the mysterious clip was directed by action writer David Ayers ("Training Day") as part of the new venture between Mean Magazine and MTV.
It may have fewer homicidal pandas in it, compared to "Drunk Girls," but it has its own charms.
As Lil Wayne finally makes his way out of Rikers, T.I. heads back to the clink this week, and has a few announcements on his way in.
The rapper and producer returns to prison after violating his probation earlier this year and thus is no longer "Uncaged," the title he previously gave his forthcoming new album. The set has been re-dubbed "No Mercy" and now will officially be released on Dec. 7, as he serves out his 11-months in California.
As his note of departure, T.I. has unleashed a new track and video, for "Get Back Up" featuring Chris Brown.
It's less a matter of supporting or opposing when I say this, but more a matter of taste: it's just wrong to have Chris Brown singing the lines "When they push you down you got to get back up." It's not cute or ironic, coming from the lips of a convicted felon who beat up his girlfriend. But the tone of the track has Brown casting Brown as a victim. And hell, same with T.I.
T.I. and Brown call for no "judgement" -- of their crimes, especially after they've asked forgiveness from fans and media -- but as consumers of pop music, we can judge their reactions within their artistic work . Thus, "Get Back Up," as a pop tune is only sort of catchy but weighed down by the hopeful message mixed in with a defensive one and, given the context of these performers' perspectives, comes off as cheap and reactive. Chris Brown's voice still sounds tops, but T.I.'s rhymes are clearly curbed.
No matter. He's had a slew of hot records that came out all summer, including my favorite "Ya Hear Me." From his interviews, it sounds like T.I. is willing and prepared to weather another few months in prison, even if this album release suffers for it. There's no delaying that which wants to be uncaged.
Are you a dirty little freak? Dance like one? Drink like one? Sleep with one?
Pink has corralled all her favorite outcasts and her least-favorite "norms" into one hilarious and eye-raising clip for "Raise Your Glass," the new single culled from her forthcoming "Greatest Hits... So Far!!!"
Starring as narrator Rosie the Riveter, she immediately employs gender politicking, directly before she slays a matador the same way he slays his horned combatant. But then she turns around to "milk" women in the same manner as America's corporate farms in order to feed a calf .
There's a handful of approaches she and director Dave Myers take on marginalized peoples (and animals), which highlight the single itself, with its Max Martin-produced studio flubs and unscripted asides that make this party track perfect in its imperfections.
From Sumo wrestling Uncle Sam, to fist-bumping gangsters from a chopper bike, to finding holiness through sex with religious figures, to literally flattening two-dimensional high school girls appalled at that second corn dog, Pink claims the underdogs as her clan as the leader of the clan. She doesn't quite illustrate how she earns the distinction except that she can point to a decade-long history of edgy performances and willingness to become a chameleon for each.
Interestingly, it comes in the same season that Kanye West told us to raise our glasses for the "douchebags," "assholes," "scumbags" and "jerkoffs," an anthem like Pink's that celebrates more who we are less than what we aren't. But, y'know, with more sarcasm and admiration.
Too, it comes a week after Katy Perry made her own statement about being yourself, also featuring a girl struggling with her body image. It's sort of like Freak Flag Flying vs. "Firework," with Pink (and Tony Hawk) getting down and ugly while Katy Perry just keeps her eyes to the sky. Do you think they're raising their glasses the same way?
The clip certainly increased my appreciation of the song, while it gives my eyes a lot to look at and applaud. She may not pull off the "nerd" look the same way Taylor Swift does in "You Belong to Me," but those dance moves are right on track.
I love me some Nicki Minaj, but the wait for her debut "Pink Friday" to finally drop is starting to get too much to bear. Particularly after getting declared the No. 6 "Hottest MC" without a full-length set to her name, it's time to flip the cards and show us what she's got.
Thankfully, the Young Money star is doing so in rapid fashion, debuting two new music videos this week. The newest, "Right Thru Me," features a more downbeat, less-bonkers version of Minaj -- Queens Barbie, really -- in a bikini, no less.
Minaj sings through steam -- and as she's steamed -- at and about her lover, who infuriates her yet calls her on her "sh*t" (or her "ish" if you're hearing the clean version). I feel the conflict, even though the intro to the clip is kind of a bummer: she verbally lays into her lover, smashes a glass, he threatens to leave, she 180s, whimpering. He won't be winning an Oscar any time soon, but he looks good in the water.
The repeating refrain "how do you do that sh*t" gets a bit like nails on the chalkboard, calmed by the addictive, sweeping lyrics of the title. It's legions better than the will.i.am vehicle "Check It Out," and it brings Minaj's personality back down to earth, if even temporarily.
Katy Perry's boobs shoot firecrackers in the new video for "Firework." There is no way that this fact was lost on the clip's creators.
Yes, of course, it's not lost on me, either, that the sparks are supposed to be interpreted as flying from her heart, or her soul, or whatever. But this, after the summer of "California Gurls," which featured the pop star's infamous breasts sporting a whipped cream-canon bra. Perry's cleavage got her in trouble with some parents watching "Sesame Street" -- a snafu to which Perry reacted to be wearing a tight, equally revealing t-shirt on "Saturday Night Live." It's like Christine O'Donnell declaring in campaign commercials that she's "not a witch" -- a rumor which she hoped to drop by further promoting it.
But you couldn't shoot fireworks, say, from the tops of their heads, or their nether regions or from their shoulders. Because then that would look just plain silly. So bosoms it is, and thus two making a trend of things exploding out from Katy Perry's breasts (three, if you count "controversy" from the "Sesame" snag).
So anyway, the ludicrousness of fireworks flying from Katy Perry's and others' chests overshadows (pun intended) the clip's larger intent and message: you just keep being you.
In my review of "Teenage Dream," "Fireworks" was one of my favorite tracks from the set, and revisiting, it holds up. I like its message, I like its delivery. Perry has gone on to dedicate it to the "It Gets Better" campaign, which encourages gay teenagers that the bullying, the inner conflicts, the search for a partner -- it gets better.
But the feel-good gets a honey-sticky makeover, sometimes cheapening the problems presented. A kid about to get robbed by thugs SHOULD NOT try and pull magic tricks on them. A cancer-stricken child likely doesn't have the energy to go dancing in the public square.
Kristian Bush was in a very good mood. Yesterday, one-half of the country duo Sugarland was preparing for the band’s appearance on “Ellen,” where he and Jennifer Nettles would be sharing airtime with the First Lady. It was assumed, too, that Sugarland’s new album “The Incredible Machine” was about to bow at No. 1 on The Billboard 200, which it did this morning. The single “Stuck Like Glue” this week is still rising at country radio after more than a dozen on the charts.
But Bush, on a larger scale, is also happy because “they keep telling us yes.’”
“Jennifer and I… we don’t dream small. We always set out with big dreams. And we keep throwing those ideas out there,” Bush says of Sugarland’s handlers and label, Mercury Nashville. “They haven’t said no.”
There’ve been requests like, Can we tour overseas? Should we tour before the albums out? Can we make the album sound like this? Could we co-produce? Can we play stadiums? “Yes, yes, yes.”
Of course, the chorus of yeses is helped by the fact that this Grammy Award-winning outfit sells literally millions, starting with 2004’s “Twice the Speed of Life,” in an album era where positive expectations are curbed by double-digit drops in sales percentages year to year. The band gambled by making “Incredible Machine” its least capital-C Country-sounding album yet, but admits that the genre is one that thrives on change.
“Pop country, alt-country, folk, Americana, bluegrass… There are more versions of country than anything else I’ve seen,” says the former rock band guitarist. “It’s not about the instrumentation or a country lifestyle, it’s more about, ‘Do you like it? Do country lovers love it?”
Nicki Minaj busts out 32 flavors of her infamous Crazy Eyes (TM) for her new video and single with will.i.am, "Check It Out."
The track will likely be included on the lady MC's forthcoming debut "Pink Friday," out on Nov. 26, and was previewed by the pair at the MTV VMAs last month. While that live performance was underwhelming, lip-synching issues don't seem to be a pressing matter for Minaj in this (literally) robotic performance. The BEP frontman spends most of his time extolling his own beats as Minaj dots in her Harajuku Barbie style raps and a lightning round verse in front of a stilted, weird Korean audience. They each get three costume makeovers, will.i.am donning the plastic hairpiece at least once more.