My first thought, as I heard about this album, was that it seemed like an interesting Christmas album, for a change. I like Bright Eyes a lot, and am not generally fond of Christmas albums (They all seem to feature ”Last Christmas”, which I still do not accept as being a Christmas song) This would be an interesting combination, I thought.
As I saw the track list, however, I was somewhat sceptical. Classics like ”Blue Christmas” and ”Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” are often sung by singers with powerful voices. You can say a lot about the voice of Conor Oberst, the man behind Bright Eyes, but it isn’t powerful. Some find it outright hideous. But to me it is frail and emotional, which somehow works with the songs of the album. It’s not a fantastic record, but contains some interesting interpretations of songs that have been played thin over the years. It is sad but warm at the same time, and Conor’s voice does the songs justice, in spite of what one might think. Especially on ”Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”, where the sadness of his voice greatly adds to the song, which is, incidentally, the best song on the album.
The album has been released by Saddle Creek, Conor’s small record label, in the spirit of indie. It can only be purchased from his website and very few stores. It is a benefit CD and all profits are donated to the Nebraska AIDS Project
It starts with ”Away in a Manger”, with a high-pitched female choir singing to a piano and a steady pulse beat. You would never guess that this is a Bright Eyes record so far. Then a horn (trumpet maybe) plays the melody, to some background noise of children, the first clue that Bright Eyes could have had something to do with this record, since he doesn’t even sing on the first track. It’s a nice intro.
His unmistakable voice comes in on ”Blue Christmas”. The song hasn’t been changed a lot, but the meaning of the lyrics seems different when sung by Conor. Many of the tracks haven’t been changed a whole lot, so the main difference is his voice. ”God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”, is rather upbeat, unlike most of the album, but it fits in well, as one of the best tracks. The album is by no means brilliant, but I find it nice to listen to.
The highlights are ”Blue Christmas”, ”God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and ”Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”.
The final track ”The Night Before Christmas” is read with piano backing. I quite like it, but it will probably get old if you listen to the album too much (Like the interview featured on Bright Eyes’ Fevers & Mirrors). It is a fitting ending to the album, though, and certainly pleasant to listen to.
Bright Eyes’ ”A Chrismas Album” is by no means a classic, nor anywhere near it. People who aren’t particularly fond of Bright Eyes in general, will likely hate this album. But to me, it is a warm, melancholic Christmas album, that is certainly more interesting than most Christmas albums I’ve heard. If you want a different Christmas album, and, like me, actually like Conor’s singing, you should get this album. And hey, it’s for a good cause.
2,5/5, because while it is pleasant to listen to, it is not particularly innovate, and doesn't feature Bright Eyes' strongest quality: His lyrics.