Holidays often have the unfortunate effect of enabling musicians to create novelty albums, and the Christmas album is likely the most common. An album isn’t really a form factor that lends itself to themed music, since a certain amount of depth is required to maintain quality over the course of an hour of music. However, some artists make the format more interesting, like Sufjan Stevens’ collection of Christmas EPs, which infused his usual drama and tragedy into Christmas music. R. Kelly has seemingly tried to do his version of this with 12 Nights of Christmas, mixing his usual sex-laden R&B with some Christmas flavour, but the result is pretty dire.
Unfortunately the best reference point for 12 Nights of Christmas is probably The Lonely Island’s Dick in a Box. That song was a classic parody of self and sex obsession in R&B, and it hits a lot of the same notes as 12 Nights of Christmas. The main differentiating factor between the two, is R. Kelly seems to be taking himself seriously. The album is hilarious, albeit unintentionally, which creates an amazing amount of cognitive dissonance during a listen. The opening line on Home for Christmas, spoken over twee bells, is “baby this Christmas, my gift to you will be… me”. It’s so self-obsessed that it’s comical, and that’s not even the worst of it. He sings about how he’s a “snowman looking for a snowgirl”, and that he’ll “deck the halls with the shadow of you and me on the wall”. It’s so tacky that it seems the absurdity must be intentional, but everything Kelly has said about the album suggests he genuinely wants to make Christmas sexy.
Sonically the album is standard R. Kelly fare, with a certain Christmas twang to it. There’s a Disney-esque use of chimes and harp runs throughout, which further detract from the “sexiness” of the album. The instrumentals are serviceable, and are technically well performed (it should also be noted that Kelly’s singing is technically superb, if somewhat without flair), but just serve to reinforce the underlying absurdity at the heart of the album. Intentional or not, the concept of this record alone provides a fair share of laughs, but over the course of 12 songs and 44 minutes, Kelly’s Christmas sex odyssey simply seems silly and inane.