Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Next Christmas Album You Need to Buy

It may seem strange to talk about a Christmas album right now. In fact, trying to buy Christmas music right now is like trying to buy home heating oil #2. The refineries have stopped making heating oil, switching over to gasoline for the summer, and they won't go back to heating oil until September. In the same way, this is the wrong season for retailers to be putting Christmas music on the shelves and advertising it. All of their Christmas CDs are in the warehouse, where they will remain until Thanksgiving.

Or Halloween.

Or Labor Day.

Unless you're an online retailer. Then it's Christmas all year long.

But I digress. (I'm allowed to do that. E' il mio gioco; le regole, le faccio io.) Let's talk about Christmas music.

Last December, I heard a music review on National Public Radio, of a new Christmas album by Sting, called If On a Winter's Night... . (Yes, the ellipsis is part of the title.) The reviewer played clips of some of the songs, and talked about a few of the tracks, enough to make me want to buy the CD. So I did.

I think I played it once last winter, and not even all the way through. But it's been sitting on my shelf for six months now, and I recently decided to try it again. It's much more listenable the second (and third) time around.

If you're in the mood for Nat King Cole's The Christmas Song or John Denver and the Muppets' The Twelve Days of Christmas, this album just won't do it for you. It's a very introspective album. Each song invites the listener to go with Sting, deep into the emotions and the thoughts that are the underpinnings of The True Meaning of Christmas.

There's no catchy Winter Wonderland in this album, and no Beach Boys harmonies. Even Natalie Cole's beautiful rendition of Mary, Did You Know doesn't dig as deep as the lyrics on this album, and Natalie's Mary does dig deep. Each song on this album takes one emotion, and examines it in the light of the season, to a depth (sometimes a surprisingly dark depth) that may make the casual listener uncomfortable.

But don't listen to the album casually. Allow yourself the luxury of really getting into it. And take time to read the accompanying booklet.

The music, both the composition and performance, are superb. Because it isn't tied to the rhythms of the traditional carols like Silent Night, or the contemporary jingles like Winter Wonderland, the music is as deeply introspective as the lyrics, and the music matches the lyrics in magical ways. Besides that, Sting takes advantage of the opportunity to showcase his musical talent, to do some virtuoso things that you won't hear on commercial radio.

It may be too deep, too dark, for you. Borrow it or sample it before you decide to buy. Don't plan on playing it at a Christmas party. It's not that kind of music. It will kill the party in a hurry. But on a winter's night, when you're home alone or with the one person in the world who understands you, put it on and allow Sting to pull you in to a different kind of Christmas experience.

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