Review Summary: No surprises here: when you mix the Barenaked Ladies' style of music with the holidays, you get what you expect: a thoroughly fun record from start-to-finish, with terrific original arrangements and wonderful spins on holiday classics.
It doesn't take a scholar to figure out who's behind Barenaked for the Holidays
and what the album's focus is. Released in 2004 on their independent label, Desperation Records, the holiday album from Canadian pop-rock juggernauts Barenaked Ladies is a short listen, but filled with tremendous holiday cheer and an array of special guests, from Sarah McLachlan to Michael Bublé. On the album, the Ladies arrange classic holiday songs, such as "Jingle Bells" or "Auld Lang Syne," but also throw in some original compositions as well; for instance, "Green Christmas" can be found on the original soundtrack to the re-make of Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas
. The album features both Christmas and Hanukkah songs, seeing as how vocalist/guitarist Steven Page is Jewish, and asked his bandmates if they could "Not sing so much about baby Jesus" on the album.
The Ladies usually stick to their respective instruments, but each member contributes vocals at some point on the album, and there is a wide array of instruments used on Barenaked for the Holidays
, showing the band's overall versatility. Many of the renditions found on the album stay true to the original songs; however, it wouldn't be a true Barenaked Ladies album if there wasn't any tounge-in-cheek humor involved. The band succeeds in both areas.
The album's opener, Jingle Bells
, starts the album with a beautiful piano run and Page's soft vocals, before the full band explodes in a medley of raucous guitars and percussion. Even the elementary school rhyme of "Jingle Bells, Batman smells, Robin laid an egg - Batmobile lost its wheel and Joker got away!" finds its way into the track. The Ladies appear to have had a lot of fun with this track, as evidenced by Page cracking up in mid-verse and barely able to finish his lines. The Hanukkah recordings are also well-executed, with Page singing in Hebrew in Hanukkah Blessings
, in which he explains why they light the candles of the menorah on the Jewish holiday: "Barukh Atah, Adonai Elohaynu Melekh h'olom, Asher kid'shanu b'mitzvotav v'tzivanu, L'hadlik nehr shel hannukah - We light the candles for Hanukkah, for Hanukkah." The quirky instrumental and/or vocal songs that are littered throughout the album serve as transition pieces - Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
and O Holy Night
sound like music played at a hockey game, while Deck the Stills
is sung like "Deck the Halls," but only with "Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young" comprising the lyrics. Instrumentally, they show the band's talents; vocally, the band's humor shines through.
Other spectacular arrangements include Do They Know It's Christmas?
and God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen / We Three Kings
, featuring Sarah McLachlan on guest vocals. Do They Know It's Christmas?
contains an extremely strong perspective on world issues; to clarify, Page sings of the joys of Christmas, but how not all people can share in the spirit. "There's a world outside your window, and it's a world of dread and fear," he sings, continuing that "The Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom... there won't be snow in Africa this Christmastime; the greatest gift they'll get this year is life." The march-like tempo that dictates the song is beautiful, and the outro is one of the most memorable points on the album, with ringing bells and multiple vocal efforts. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen / We Three Kings
is bolstered by the presence of McLachlan, especially during the "O, star of Wonder, star of night, star with royal beauty bright" passages in a duet with Robertson, but her vocal solo is even more magnificent. The track's pulse is courtesy of a stand-up bass from Jim Creeggan, giving the track a thick, plump, rich sound.
Two of the best original recordings found on the album include Elf's Lament
and Green Christmas
. The former track is one of the most festive cuts on the album, written from an elf's point-of-view, declaring his distaste for having to work hard for Santa Claus during the holiday season. Michael Bublé makes a guest appearance on the track, where he, Page, and Ed Robertson each assume the role of an over-worked elf, from complaining about the work conditions ("Making toys on garnished wages, there's no union - we're only through when we out-do the competition") to the unsatisfactory nature of their jobs ("Trends come and go, and your friends wanna know why you aren't just happy making crappy little gizmos - every kid knows they'll just throw this stuff away"). The chorus is the highlight of the track, where the elves congregate together to proclaim that they could go on to bigger and better things, but are being held down by the man. A very round, bearded, bowl-full-of-jelly bellied, red-wearing man. Green Christmas
is told from the perspective of The Grinch, in which the Ladies explain his grouchy demeanor towards Christmas. Throughout, The Grinch slams doors on carolers and looks with contempt on ice skaters and Christmas cheer, before revealing that he's "Green 'cause of everything I miss; all this mistletoe, no kiss - and with every Christmas wish, there would be no greater gift than to have this envy lift." These two tracks best represent Barenaked Ladies' best original cuts.
In the end, this is an excellent holiday album from Barenaked Ladies. It's creative and extremely festive, and the instrumental and vocal talents of the Ladies percolate throughout. Both the original tracks and the arrangements are executed well, especially Elf's Lament
, Do They Know It's Christmas?
, Christmastime (Oh Yeah)
, and God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen / We Three Kings
. Transition tracks such as I Saw Three Ships
and Sleigh Ride
are harmless, adding to the album's integrity and geniality. Instrumentally, the guitar progressions are spirited, and the percussion - especially the jingle bells - add to the festive dynamic found on the album. While a couple of the original compositions do seem a bit flat, the band stays true to the original tracks while putting on their own creative spin to the song. Thus, Barenaked for the Holidays
should accordingly be considered for holiday listening.
Happy Holidays, folks.
Do They Know It's Christmas?
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen / We Three Kings