Recording a Christmas album is not for the fainthearted.
On paper it must seem like one of the easiest things to do in the world – gather together your favourite “golden oldies” Christmas carols and songs, write one or two new songs that will hopefully become classics in time (or if you’re Mariah Carey and “All I Want For Christmas is You” pretty much instantly) and maybe, if you’re feeling brave, a few left-of-field choices to remind people you’re not sleepwalking through the whole exercise.
Then find a recording studio, hire a big band, and spend much of June or July pretending it’s really the middle of December.
Case closed, done, pour some eggnog and check if that’s Santa on the roof or just a really overweight possum.
If you’re an artist like Kylie Monogue, however, who has made her name staying in step with the latest pop sounds and keeping the nightclub set happy, then the process becomes infinitely more complicated.
Too avant garde? Bah, that doesn’t sound like Christmas! Too traditional? Where’s your envelope-pushing spirit gone?
In essence, she can’t win, besieged from one side by those who hate traditional-sounding Christmas music, which would seem to be the majority of critics who did not take to your Kylie’s attempt to channel Bing and Frank, and from the other by those who adore all the big band bells and whistles and can’t abide even a hint of playing around with the concept, even on the margins.
The reality is that for most people, well those who love Christmas music anyway, is that the more traditional-sounding the better.
And that is what Kylie, for better or worse – I land most firmly on the better – has chosen, channeling her inner 1950s goddess and recreating the sound that most people have come to associate with the holiday season.
You may deem it unadventurous, and perhaps it is in a sense since many of the songs on the album don’t come with much sense that anything too radical has been done to them, but in Kylie’s case, it works, giving us an album that manages to capture that most intangible of states, the feeling of Christmas.
She kicks off proceedings with what many would regard as the holy triumvirate of Christmas songs – “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” (performed across a few decades with Frank Sinatra using vocals he recorded in 1948) and “Winter Wonderland” – and all three benefit from Kylie’s sweet elfin voice that suits the material perfectly.
Granted none of these versions will go down as genre-busting retakes on the grand old standards but then that’s hardly the point – they’re there to engender a warm and fuzzy feeling, the kind that Ol’ Blue Eyes himself would have been quite familiar with, and they do exactly as they’re asked for.
There is some experimentation, if you can call it that on The Waitresses’ 1981 song “Christmas Wrapping” which brings things a little close to the modern era, although it does feature Iggy Pop who sounds like he’s barely there or barely interested.
Hard to tell which but Kylie Minogue sounds like she’s having fun with the bouncy, upbeat arrangement and that’s makes the song a winning inclusion.
Yazoo, or rather their song “Only You” make an appearance, with Kylie dueting with actor/talk show host James Corden and give the album a nice breather after the full speed ahead exuberance of “Christmas Wrapping”.
We jump back, this time to 1962, soundwise at least with “I’m Gonna Be Warm This Winter” before racing back most decidedly to the present with the Chris Martin-penned “Every Day’s Like Christmas” which beautifully captures the way love can make the ordinary into something magical and extraordinary.
It’s a nice addition to the cavalcade of songs into which “All I Want For Christmas is You” and “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” belong – one could argue that the former modern classic rules over it as the most perfect pop Christmas song of them all – and while it may not reach Mariah’s dizzying heights, it articulates how utterly transformative the presence of that one special person can be at Christmas all through the year.
The remaining songs dance back and forth between modern and classic but for the most part Kylie most firmly and successfully stays put in the quintessential Christmas time period,m winningly evoked recently by Bill Murray in his Netflix special A Very Murray Christmas.
Yes like many artists before her, there will be criticism that she didn’t try to stamp more of her personality onto the album but only the most adventurous artists try that.
Let’s be honest – the songs that Kylie delivers on a Kylie Christmas is exactly what we all want playing at this time of year when we’re decorating the tree or opening presents with friends and family, and the now veteran pop princess gives us exactly what we want and does it with joyful style and panache, and the perfect evoking of the season.