It’s November, folks, and that means it’s time to kick off the blog of Christmas Spirit Fail–all those awful songs that will be invading your eardrums and declaring victory over the next two months.
Let’s start with an item in The Weekly Standard, which includes a fine article on how Bob Dylan fans “are the battered wives of the music industry.” Now, I’m OK with the early, dating-Joan-Baez Dylan as much as the next guy, but I can’t admit to being inspired with the hazy, lazy, wheezy, greasy stuff that Dylan spins out in his latter days. And that’s not going to change with Christmas in the Heart, Dylan’s schlocky holiday album. (Just listen to the song previews on Amazon!)
And then luxuriate in Andy Ferguson’s bilious criticism:
Christmas in the Heart, the most misanthropic Dylan album ever, spreads it all on the outer layer. The record is a collection of Christmas standards, familiar kitsch classics like “Winter Wonderland” and “Silver Bells” and forgotten kitsch classics like Sammy Cahn’s “Christmas Blues,” along with the obligatory quasi-hymns, “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful,” sung, Deus misereatur, in Latin.
The production and packaging are professional. The band is competent in a midnight-at-the-Nashville Hyatt sort of way–maybe a little heavy on the tremolo but still. And the songs themselves are fine, of course. The arrangements, though, are jarringly slick, with sleigh bells and gossamer strings and cooing girl singers–as if Dylan had chosen to lift the backing tracks from an Andy Williams Christmas special circa 1968. Oozing just beneath his asthmatic croak, the arrangements give an effect of overwhelming creepiness. His voice gets worse with every track. You wonder whether someone left the karaoke machine on in the emphysema ward at the old folks’ home. He doesn’t sing notes so much as make exhausted gestures in their general direction, until at a break he falls silent and is rescued by the backup singers, who reestablish the melody in the proper key. But then he starts singing again.