Australia’s own Princess of Pop Kylie Minogue has finally done the unthinkable. She has released a collection of Christmas classics and new holiday-themed tracks called Kylie Christmas. Yes, the once chart-topping singer has gone after that sweet, sweet stocking stuffer money and added her voice to a long list of Christmas releases which surface in November every year and have the potential to make their artists more cash than their regular albums do (particularly if they fill them with tracks now in the public domain).
I have no wish to be too cynical when it comes to Kylie Christmas. As far as I’m concerned, Kylie has always been a cynicism-free zone, and if there’s an artist who can pull off the candy cane-sweetness and bubbly optimism of a Christmas release, it is Kylie, who Rufus Wainwright once claimed was “the gay shorthand for joy”.
The album kicks off with an orchestral flourish before launching into a classic and deliberately overblown rendition of everybody’s favourite holiday waltz It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year. The album then continues with a series of Christmas classics — including Let It Snow, Santa Claus Is Coming to Town (featuring Frank Sinatra’s voice) and Winter Wonderland. There are also new disco-tinged Christmas songs, including two songs of glorious holiday heartbreak (in the tradition of Darlene Love’s Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home) and Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas Is You) penned by Minogue: White December and Christmas Isn’t Christmas ‘Til You Get Here.
This is an album which, unlike every other mainstream Christmas album released this year, proudly owns kitsch. Decent, tasteful Christmas albums are far and few between. The only Christmas album without tongue in cheek which I can actually enjoy is Ella Fitzgerald’s Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas, and even then you’re left with the sense that the jazz great’s skills are wasted on the lightweight seasonal ditties. At least Minogue’s effort acknowledges that apart from a sweet and understated Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, there’s not much to be done, musically, in this unique subset of standards.
Artists who go down that track open themselves up to the harshest possible criticism. In 2013 Tyson Wray (then writing for the now defunct free commuter newspaper mX) slammed Anthony Callea’s This Is Christmas, opening his review: “Nothing says ‘I’ve completely given up on the artistic endeavours of my musical career’ more than releasing a Christmas album.”
But Christmas music is a big business — in the United States alone, easy listening ’90s saxophonist Kenny G sold more than 7 million copies of his 1994 Miracles: the Holiday Album, making it his second highest selling release ever — so what’s the harm of a sneering review or two?
Of course, there are rare exceptions to the rule that all Christmas music is awful. Elvis’ Christmas Album, which is the highest-selling Christmas album ever (more than 20 million copies in its various iterations) has plenty of charm and A Christmas Gift for You From Phil Spector is one of the best releases to come out of Spector’s career and features Darlene Love’s blistering performance of Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).
But this year’s line-up of releases includes a curious country-tinged release from LeAnn Rimes, the tragic RnB Braxton Family Christmas (from Toni, Traci, Towanda, Trina and Tamar Braxton) and yet another album from Kenny Rogers perhaps self-deprecatingly titled Once Again It’s Christmas. (I know Kenny, we can hardly believe it either.)
Thankfully, there’s a sense of fun underlying all the awfulness on Minogue’s album, coming through most strongly on her seductive take on Eartha Kitt’s Santa Baby (which is actually an old recording originally released in 2000). On this track, she channels a 1950s sex kitten à la Kitt or Marilyn Monroe.
The cover art for Kylie Christmas is particularly telling. Minogue is reclining seductively on a sleigh dressed in red — what else? — with an actual gift-wrapping bow on her head. It’s deliberately kitschy, cringe-worthy and about the best you can hope for from a holiday album.
Five of the worst
1. David Hasselhoff – The Night Before Christmas
2. Destiny’s Child – 8 Days of Christmas
3. New Kids on the Block – Merry Merry Christmas
4. Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta – This Christmas
5. Justin Bieber – Under the Mistletoe