MUSIC  It's hard to imagine a more risky move for a credible, well respected musician, than to release a Christmas album. Especially within the less commercial, "alternative" realm of music. And by today's standards, pretty much anyone who's not bearing the name Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga or Mariah Carey, is more or less "alternative", as far as sales figures go.

Religion can be a touchy subject to bring into the music, and could be decision seminal to an artist's continuing career. Just ask Bob Dylan (more on that below). But religious aspects aside - even a secular bunch of jolly, slapsticky Christmas carols could mean career suicide just the same. Especially to artists and bands that happen to have a certain credibility, seriousness and, well, mystique associated to them. It's the matter of knowing your audience, and their perception of what you are, well enough. in order to make the right decisions.

A Twisted Christmas cash-in

Twisted Santa. Dee Snyder, singer of Twisted Sister
Some years ago, hair metal band Twisted Sister made a Yuletide album of their own, called "Twisted Christmas". A record they promoted with their rendition of "Oh Come All Ye Faithful", which was nothing more than a shameless remake of their old hit "We're Not Gonna Take it", only with the words switched out. But, shameless or not, it was a great success for the old 80's band. And if there's any hard rock / metal band that could get away with cashing in on Christmas carols, it's hardly one that take themselves seriously in the first place.

Judas Priest's carols of contradiction

Less expected was perhaps Judas Priest frontman (top picture) Rob Halford's seasonal album "Winter Songs", of 2009. If commerce haven't already, this priest would certainly take the "Christ" out of Christmas. Ranging from the aggro Painkiller-esque opener "Get Into The Spirit", to bombastic arrangements of traditional Christmas carols like "Oh Holy Night" and (once again) "Oh Come All Ye Faithful", Mr, Halford's collection of Christmas earrings is quite a peculiar affair. Especially as it's seemingly delivered with complete lack of self-irony or any form of "tongue-in-cheek" sensibility.

Bob Dylan's religiously confused carols

Santa Bob
That wasn't the only odd Yuletide album coming that season, however. A couple of months earlier legendary folk-rock singer/songwriter Bob Dylan, born Robert Allen Zimmerman and raised in a Jewish family, also decided to make a Christmas album. The 2009 album, "Christmas In the Heart" divided the Bob fans into two camps, where some stood by their old folk rock hero, while others were left disappointed. Maybe not so much over the songs or record itself, but for what it was and all that it stood for.

Gangsta rap carols

Afro Santa
Another ungodly X-mas album was Afroman's "Colt 45 Christmas". The gangsta rapper, whose most lasting contribution to popular culture will always be "Because I Got High", also made this profane parody of a Christmas album in 2006. Highlights include "Police Blow My Wad" (sung to the tune of "Feliz Navidad") and "O Chronic Tree", giving new meaning to the term "tree-lighting ceremony". Afroman made another raunchy X-mas album in 2008, called "Jobe Bells".

Ash + Emmy the Great - blistering carols of power-pop

This season of 2011, I felt the same kind of hesitance. That's when I heard Tim Wheeler, frontman of Irish rock band Ash, had made a Christmas album with singer/songwriter Emmy the Great. I've been a major Ash fan for over a decade, and seen them change quite a bit over the years. Most drastically so since they parted ways with guitarist Charlotte Hatherley after the powerhouse "Meltdown" of 2004 - their rockiest album to date, and sadly their last work as a fourpiece. Tim had already worked with Emmy on a few acoustic Ash tunes quite recently, so a softer singer/songwriter type of side project didn't seem very far fetched. But an X-mas album? Surprised even me. The album, entitled "This is Christmas" happened to be a quite playful collection of tunes, full of warm tongue-in-cheek humour and wordplay. The duo's project name pretty much "Sleigher" says it all.

There are a lot more odd Yuletide music to be found out there, certainly, but these are just a few tasters to get you in the spirit of Christmas. Hope you'll find something interesting, and perhaps even enjoyable out there!
'Til next time...

Merry X-Mas!
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