Go pop, rock or soul this Christmas

STILL FRESH: Oberst (right) is the frontman of indie-rock band Bright Eyes. Their 2002 Christmas album proves how forward-looking their music is.


    Dec 13, 2013

    Go pop, rock or soul this Christmas

    DECK the halls with tunes by these music acts offering their different takes on Christmas:


    Kelly Clarkson

    RCA/Sony Music

    Rating: 3/5

    Our Santarina: The original American Idol belts out on her first Christmas album of no-brainer classics and new tracks, as if released from years of factory servitude.

    How high is the holiday spirit? Higher than Jungfraujoch in the Swiss Alps.

    Kelly Clarkson sails on her range to achieve Mariah Carey-esque peaks.

    She turns a cosy chestnut like Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas into a powerhouse number, delivering the line "So hang a shining star upon the highest bough" as a sky-shattering missile.

    A Phil Spector-styled gloss is poured over the title track and Underneath The Tree, with Clarkson showing off that ridiculous mix of rarefied high register and blow-hard bluster.

    So confidently heartland is her approach, it doesn't matter if she's covering the wintry spiritual Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel or the jazzy Baby It's Cold Outside, it's the Clarkson brand fortified. She'll be clucking all the way to the bank.

    Play it: At your next school reunion, as you size up one another and check out who's gone fat, bald, grey or ___________ (put your derisive adjective here).


    Bright Eyes

    Saddle Creek

    Rating: 4/5

    Our Santa: Conor Oberst, indie heart-throb and chieftain of Omaha, Nebraska, rockers Bright Eyes, recorded these festive tunes at his house with bandmates back in 2002.

    Re-issued for wider release, this decade-old album proves how forward-looking he is.

    How high is the holiday spirit? High for indie anoraks who prefer their Christmas a little blue and maybe even sexily dangerous.

    Oberst, then 23, was known for being a whiz kid who flitted between genres.

    And so your ears prick up at the industrial-folk version of Little Drummer Boy, infused with white noise and static; and a spectral, crackly Silent Night.

    These are juxtaposed with Maria Taylor's pristine, acoustic strummer White Christmas.

    Part-naive, part world-weary, this still sounds supremely fresh.

    Play it: After you get sick of the big-lunged Kelly Clarkson.


    Mary J. Blige


    Rating: 3/5

    Our Santarina: Mary J. Blige joins producer-Svengali David Foster for a sometimes soulful, sometimes lounge-cruisey ride through what sounds like Disneyland.

    How high is the holiday spirit? Higher than the candy towers of the Sleeping Beauty Castle. Blige, who says she does not want any more drama, comes across as a guru-sista.

    Little Drummer Boy has the pomp of The Lion King, with Blige pah-rum-pum-pum-pum-ing amid brisk percussion and a church choir to take you to Harlem and back.

    She next turns Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer into a big-band shindig, with trumpets tooting as if Tinker Bell has gone mad.

    Celebrity pals pop up: Jessie J enunciates every vowel in the over-egged Do You Hear What I Hear?, and Blige duly obliges. But it's When You Wish Upon A Star which cements the stellar cred. Barbra Streisand waltzes in and unleashes her Barbra-ism as Blige surely weeps with joy.

    Play it: At a lip-synching session.


    Susan Boyle


    Rating: 2/5

    Our Santarina: Susan Boyle lets her operatic voice sail away into Enya-land, away from those nasty bullies of her youth.

    How high is the holiday spirit? As high as the bird can see.

    After all the trials and tribulations she's suffered, there's nothing insurmountable for Boyle to achieve.

    She has the honour of being the first British artist to record an eerie, posthumous duet with Elvis Presley, trading verses on O Come, All Ye Faithful. So cynics, stay away.

    Johnny Mathis joins her in a treacly cover of his 1975 hit version of When A Child Is Born, with strings and drums hitting every note.

    Therein lies Boyle's unique selling point: She won't move mountains, but she will glide over them like the rain after.

    Play it: When you can't sleep.