Release Date: Oct 29, 2013
Record label: Epitaph
Genre(s): Holiday, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Punk Revival, Christmas
"‘Christmas Songs’ finds punk rock’s elder statesmen subtly dismantling the established order by taking these seasonal staples and making them their own. . .
All right, so, full disclosure: I’ve got a little Christmas music problem. Sometime around September, I start scouring the cobwebs of Amazon for cheap holiday tunes; the strange, the sublime, anything to boost my ridiculous playlist. I’m especially up for the fringe stuff, but I like it all: radio shows from the ‘40s, bebop carols, modern originals from the sincere (“Fairytale of New York”) to the cheesy (“Christmas Wrapping”) and the cynical (“I Believe in Father Christmas”).
I hate Christmas albums. I hate their saccharine-sweet cod-religious exhortations, the god-damned jingle bells and the enforced jollity of the whole shebang. Unfortunately, my other half loves the bloody things, and every year insists on dragging them out and torturing me with them. It also happens that I absolutely love punk covers - especially those done in a Nineties SoCal style.
Even for shameless seasonal music fans, most new holiday releases are lame. It's tough to compete with Louis Armstrong, Dinah Washington or Bing Crosby. And if you're not going to have an All I Want For Christmas-level hit, what's the point? Bad Religion's Christmas album is one of the most unusual in recent memory. It might seem like a strange fit, but the punk legends' famous three-part harmonies actually suit the genre quite nicely, particularly on the churchy opening to Hark! The Herald Angels Sing and a new and improved ending to White Christmas.
Throughout their illustrious 34-year career, Bad Religion have remained remarkably consistent compared to their contemporaries. Of their sixteen studio albums, twelve or thirteen of them range from really good to great, and even the other few have their moments. At this point, a large section of the punk scene is fully comfortable giving them carte blanche based on their back catalogue.
Upon seeing a Bad Religion album titled Christmas Songs, the instinctive reaction would be to assume the band was releasing an album meant to skewer the holiday and the evil corporations that profit from its commercialization. Instead, the album is exactly what it appears to be, with the legendary punk band delivering high energy yet faithful renditions of Christmas classics like "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," "Little Drummer Boy," and "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. " Rather than subverting culture, the band goes one step further, subverting the expectations of listeners by performing the songs without irony.
Punks bloody love Christmas. Maybe it’s because of the festive colours – those potent reds, greens and golds reminiscent of the tartan bondage trousers on sale in Vivienne Westwood’s King’s Road shop in the late 1970s. Or perhaps it’s down to the easy access to mulled wine – the perfect accompaniment to an evening’s pogoing to Clash B-sides after you’ve taken your mutt-on-a-string for a stroll down Camden Lock.
They’ve spent the past 30 years railing against the influence of religion in American politics but, hey, even Bad Religion needs a holiday from such dedicated righteousness. It’s hard to begrudge the two wise men, Graffin and Gurewitz, for getting into the festive spirit by delivering this mini-album of Christmas classics. It starts promisingly enough, with the flood of vocal harmonies that introduce Hark! The Herald Angels Sing giving way to the patented Bad Religion attack.
This is the answer to a question nobody asked: just how many Christmas carols can be shoved into the pop-punk template of shout-along choruses, crashing power chords and budda-budda drums? (Most of them, it would appear.) And so California punk veterans Bad Religion blast predictably through Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, O Come All Ye Faithful and other holiday favourites in the name of charity. Only rarely is a modicum of wit and invention shown: O Come, O Come Emmanuel fares suprisingly well with a punk-rock makeover, and the Ramonesification of White Christmas at least raises a smile. But finishing off the album with a run-through of their own 1993 single American Jesus only serves to show that Bad Religion are capable of so much more.
There's a delicious bit of irony to hearing a band called Bad Religion singing with evident fervor, "Oh come let us adore him/Christ the Lord" as they power through a hopped-up of "O Come All Ye Faithful." It's a contradiction that the long-standing Los Angeles-based punk outfit embrace as gleefully as the young lad on the cover of this EP does his new pair of shoes. As if to drive the point home, a portion of the sales of this between-album trifle (and an accompanying 7-inch featuring a cover of the Kinks' "Father Christmas") will be donated to a non-profit that aids survivors of sexual abuse at the hands of priests. Well, that and an alternate mix of "American Jesus" closes out the disc.
In which we take you from traditional finger picker John Fahey to death metal shredder J. J. Hrubovcak, from punk rats Bad Religion to Rat Packers Sinatra, Martin & Davis, from the duck dynastyers The Robertsons to the chipmunk clan Alvin & The Chipmunks… and much much more… BY THE BLURT STAFF & CONTRIBUTORS From the 2012 Xmas report: “For the initial three years of BLURT’s tenure I purposely steered clear of assigning reviews of Christmas albums, thinking those to be more properly the mainstream domain of daily and weekly newspapers than a national publication.