Yep, it’s that time of year again when, as surely as we can predict that day will turn into long, cold nights, major artists will be queuing up to release their inessential Christmas albums. Why do they bother? Simple really: get it right and it’s the gift that keeps on giving, literally, as the royalties pour in decade after decade. Everyone from Slade to Mariah Carey enjoy this bumper annual harvest, thanks to festive frolics recorded long, long ago.
Alicia Keys becomes the latest A lister to attempt to achieve this sort of immortality with her re-interpretation of seven holiday classics and a handful of originals. The title track – already ably covered by the likes of Eartha Kitt, Michael Buble, Madonna…and even Kylie – kicks off with a creepy spoken intro where Keys says “I’ve been such a good girl” she deserves everything on her present list. It doesn’t get much better from there. Her loungey take is so soporific you’ll be nodding off before you’ve even stuffed yourself full with turkey and sprouts. Her take of Rogers & Hammerstein’s My Favourite Things is just plain weird: a piano-led dirge overlaid with a softly-spoken rap – think Dave Brubeck meets The Munsters. The mood briefly becomes a bit brighter on Keys’ gospely version of Please Come Home For Christmas, previously a hit for Jon Bon Jovi, Kelly Clarkson and Pat Benatar, before dipping again on a pointless cover of Merry Xmas (War Is Over) where, surprisingly, the expected choral outro of the Lennon/Ono original never arrives. The 41-year-old singer rides in the wake of her idols Stevie Wonder, Barbra Streisand, Beyonce et al with jazzy stabs at The Christmas Song (Chestnuts) and Schubert’s Ave Maria which, although pleasant enough, don’t really add anything new or special to these well-trodden tunes.
So what, then, of Keys’ own compositions? Again, they’re inoffensive but largely uninspiring – indeed she almost reprises her 2001 mega-hit Fallin’ on the Disney-esque You Do Have To Be Alone which occasionally skirts uncomfortably close to When You Wish Upon a Star. Meanwhile, radio-friendly soul-pop of first single December Back 2 June is formulaic enough to potentially earn a place on a future Xmas compilation. If that happens, Keys’ will have achieved her ambition of achieving a long-lasting legacy, but Santa Baby leaves you with a nagging sense that the Empire State of Mind singer could have conjured up something much more memorable.
Writer and professional flautist Grace Twomey (MMus) performs regularly at gigs in South London where she’s based. All her areas of expertise include classical, pop, indie, latin and folk music.