On 9th day of Christmas … I listened to Gwen Stefani’s “You Make it Feel Like Christmas”

(image via Billboard)

 

As a recording artist, it makes sense that you’d be tempted to go Full Throttle Retro Festive when it comes to putting together a Christmas album.

After all, consumers of festive tunes know what they like, and what they generally like is for your album of Christmas songs to sound like Frank Sinatra meets Ella Fitzgerald meets Miracle on 34th Street and It’s a Wonderful Life.

Of course, it’s expected that you’ll throw in an original track or two, infuse your personal sound into proceedings, and celebrate your love of the season.

But that is about as far as it goes, and so, in the grand scheme of tinsel-draped and eggnog-soaked things, you’re expected to knuckle down, throw in some be-bop and big band and sing your mid-twentieth century Christmas-music loving heart out.

Some artists buck this trend such as Annie Lennox or Sia (who has an album of all originals – the rebel! Yet even she sounds delightfully retro festive) but most duly comply such as Gwen Stefani who serves up in You Make It Feel Like Christmas exactly, and I mean exactly, what the yuletide doctor ordered.

That is not by any means a stinging criticism or damning with faint praise critique of the album.

In fact, by any estimation, Stefani neatly ticks all the boxes with her festive album, even going so far as to throw a whole lot of new love into the mix courtesy of her relatively-recent relationship with fellow The Voice judge, Blake Shelton.

After all as Mariah Carey, and countless others throughout the years have proven, love and Christmas go together perfectly, one feeding off the other with deliciously- happy reciprocity.

 

 

And yet for all the love in the air, and the glowing sense that life is so much better at this most wonderful time of the year because love is, as Love, Actually made beautifully clear, “all around you”, Stefani’s album sounds curiously inert.

Not bad, not horrible to listen to – quite the contrary it kind of fun in a wholly undemanding way – just not spectacularly its own creature or desperately remarkable and distinctive.

Songs like “Jingle Bells”, “Let It Snow” and “Silent Night” are giving either a rousing, foot-stomping festiveness, or hushed, snow-covered reverence, and in their own way a reasonably pleasurable to listen to.

Even her original songs, imbued with a giddy sense that life is only going to get better, such as “My Gift is You”, When I Was a Little Girl” and “Under the Christmas Lights”, all of which sound suitably earnest, sweet and loved up, fit the template perfectly, full of hope, contentment and a sense Christmas has been even better, considerably better, by the presence of that special someone.

Yet for all the ticking of boxes, and the pleasure of the listen, You Make It Feel Like Christmas lacks any real sense of personality and presence.

Perhaps, given the creative straitjacket that we as listeners place on artists when they’re making these albums, it’s wholly unfair to level this kind of critique upon them.

But plenty of other artists manage it and manage it with aplomb – artists like Annie Lennox, Sarah McLachlan and Michael Bublé, to name just a few, manage to retro the proverbial out of their festive offering while still offering up something wonderfully, warm-and-fuzzy inducing unique.

Granted they don’t massively reinvent the wheel with a few exceptions, but they don’t make you feel that for all their observances of convention, that there’s something wonderfully reflective of who they are in their Christmas music.

Oddly you never get that with Stefani, a strange dynamic given how utterly out there in all the best ways she has been with her solo music to date.

But You Make It Feel Like Christmas, while perfectly delightful and a lovely addition to your festive music collection, lacks that special something, that extra bit of something distinctively Stefani, that might have fulfilled her wish, told to EW, to ” hit on something that people want to hear every year. That would be the fantasy: to be Mariah Carey.”

 

 

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