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Monday, April 29, 2019

Cheap Trick: Christmas Christmas


1) Merry Christmas Darlings; 2) I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day; 3) I Wish It Was Christmas Today; 4) Merry Xmas Everybody; 5) Please Come Home For Christmas; 6) Remember Christmas; 7) Run Rudolph Run; 8) Father Christmas; 9) Silent Night; 10) Merry Christmas (I Donʼt Want To Fight Tonight); 11) Our Father Of Life; 12) Christmas Christmas.

General verdict: Not so much a ʽChristmasʼ as a ʽmeta-Christmasʼ album — whether this is enough to make it artistically interesting is another matter, though.

Whatʼs an Elder Statesman of pop/rock without a Christmas album? Absolutely nothing, so it seems; thus reasoned Zander and Nielsen, enriching the bottomless pool of already released Christmas gifts (I swear, even if you limited yourself to rockers alone, you could have yourself a non-stop Christmas soundtrack throughout the whole year without repeating). The basic model remains conventional — take Christmas-related songs written by other artists and put your own unique spin on them. In the case of Cheap Trick, we are, of course, talking a bottle spin — hard liquor preferably, but cheap champagne will do just as well, provided it fuels you hard enough to annoy the hell out of your neighbors and throw all the empty bottles over their garden walls.

That said, there is a slightly unusual decision here that makes the record stand out among its peers. Namely, the cover material here consists not so much of golden Christmas standards (ʽSilent Nightʼ is the sole exception) as it does of Christmas songs written by rock artists over the past half century or so. Zander and Nielsen go through their dusty LP shelves quite meticulously, honoring Chuck Berry (ʽRun Rudolph Runʼ), the Kinks (ʽFather Christmasʼ), Roy Wood (ʽI Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Dayʼ), Harry Nilsson (ʽRemember Christmasʼ), the Ramones (ʽMerry Christmasʼ), and even, ugh, Jimmy Fallon (ʽI Wish It Was Christmas Todayʼ). This does make for a somewhat special Christmas experience — you could even say that the band is trying to make an ambitious move towards uprooting the fossilized canon and building up a new, far more modern one in its place. They are bound to fail, of course, but it never hurts to try.

On the listening rather than overthinking front, the album is straightforward rockʼnʼroll fun — nothing less and nothing more. Zander is in good shouting shape, Nielsen is in good hellraising shape, the rhythm section is stable, and if you are too young for the authentic Chuck Berry sound, this heavy-driving, thick-muscled version of ʽRun Rudolph Runʼ might become your favorite instead. But on the other hand, having artists as diverse as the Ramones, Wizzard, and the Kinks reduced to pretty much the exact same sonic formula can rather quickly wear you down (though, for some strange reason, on ʽMerry Christmasʼ Zander adopts a more Johnny-Rotten-type than a Joey-Ramone-type persona — something I could understand if he was British, but last I checked, Illinois was still closer to Queens than to London).

The monotonousness only breaks down on ʽSilent Nightʼ, when the rhythm section goes away and Zander sings the track as a gospel anthem, backed mostly by thick feedback from Nielsenʼs power chords (think Metal Machine Music-lite — very lite); and, later, on the self-penned ʽOur Father Of Lifeʼ, where Nielsen switches to acoustic and the vocals are provided by a childrenʼs choir while Zander goes to the bathroom. Both are pleasant enough diversions, but they will not detract us from generalizing the recordʼs spirit — this is, after all, the kind of Christmas album that is meant for somebody whose goal on Christmas is to visit each single open bar in his part of town and then pass out one minute before midnight, so as to not have to go through the ʽAuld Lang Syneʼ ritual, because who the fuck needs that, really.

Summing up: this is a record that I will probably never listen to ever again (not for Christmas, not for anything), but at the very least it does its best to avoid opening its bare chest to the throwing knives of sarcastic criticism. They probably should not have recorded it, but they have not tainted their reputation by recording it — the track selection is a neat (cheap) trick that allows them to save face at the last moment.

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