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While in many ways a great record, Yuletunes:
A Collection Of Alternative Pop Christmas Songs (1991)
isn't quite the power pop slam dunk I imagined when I first heard about it.
Released on the Shoes' Black
Vinyl Records and featuring Shoe wunderkind Jeff Murphy throughout, Yuletunes sets
a mood more congruent with an indolent Big Star ballad than a raucous Raspberries rocker. While a few cuts
work up a pretty good head of steam, most dwell on the melancholy aspects of the holiday season, and
the music inevitably reflects it. Now, that's not a bad thing, but it casts a certain pall
on the proceedings that prevents any one track from delivering a knockout punch - not even "Merry Christmas Will Do" by Material
Issue, whom I all but worship.
That makes it sound like I don't like the record, but I do - very much. My point is, Yuletunes is
a record for made for power pop acolytes (like me), but it may leave the uninitiated pop supplicant mystified. On the flipside, said acolytes will really enjoy just about the whole album. Yuletunes is extremely well-crafted and very consistent, with hardly a clunker to be found. As you'll see below, I recommend more than three-quarters of the album's 16 tracks. That includes the aforementioned Material Issue track, as well as the Critics' rave-up "She Feels Like Christmas Day," which is as close as the collection comes the aforementioned knock-out punch. (The Critics, I feel compelled to point out, gained their greatest national profile as the house band for the mid-90's TV talk show hosted by Danny Bonaduce of the Partridge Family.)
As I mentioned before, Yuletunes mostly mines the emotionally dark side of the holidays, that aspect of Christmas that make us remember lost love or departed loved ones - or even question the meaning of the whole thing. One of the most striking tracks, "A God Of My Own" by Chicago-based 92 Degrees, is essentially a holiday song for atheists and, more broadly, a plea for religious tolerance. Other mopey tracks are more straightforward (Spooner's "The Saddest Time Of The Year"), others more whimsical (Leroy's "Santa Stole My Baby"), and, on the Cavedogs' "Three Wise Men And A Baby," Yuletunes gets weird, wild, and wacky. But, even otherwise happy songs like the Spongetones' "Christmasland" ultimately sound melancholy. That downcast perspective is the defining theme of Yuletunes, and that's the thing that distinguishes the album - like it or not.
Yuletunes is subtitled "A Collection Of Alternative Pop Christmas Songs" for a reason, but not the one most people might expect. By the time of the album's release, record companies had begun using the word "alternative" to describe what they used to call modern rock or, before that, new wave. So, describing Yuletunes as alternative probably meant selling a few more copies. Smart move, Jeff. But, alternately, the subtitle conveys that Yuletunes provides an alternative perspective on the merry, happy, joyful Christmas usually portrayed by mainstream pop music. That might be a tough sell, but it's a perspective that many, many of us understand.
Thankfully, Yuletunes' jangling guitars and bright harmonies serve as a spoonful of sugar to help the bitter medicine go down. Which, if you think about it, describes a lot of great power pop. [top of page]
- Baby Jesus (Matthew Sweet)
- Every Day Will Be Like A Holiday (Marti Jones & Don Dixon)
A God Of My Own (92 Degrees)
It's About That Time (The Idea)
It's Not Christmas (Kelley Ryan)
Merry Christmas Will Do (Material Issue)
The Saddest Time Of The Year (Spooner)
- Santa Stole My Baby (Leroy)
She Feels Like Christmas Day (Critics)
- This Christmas (Shoes)
Three Wise Men And A Baby (Cavedogs)
Underneath The Christmas Tree (Bill Lloyd)
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