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Happy Christmas Volume 2
Artist: Various Artists
Label:  BEC Recordings

Jesu Bambino (The Infant Child) - Plankeye (sample)

The powers that be at Tooth & Nail Records have done it again--put together a bag of holiday candy so mixed that even Forrest Gump would be amazed.  Last year's Happy Christmas, featuring new and classic Christmas songs by the likes of Sarah Masen, 7 Day Jesus, Starflyer 59, and others, was greeted with a reception so warm that a sequel has been produced.  Predictably titled Happy Christmas Volume 2, the album contains some tracks that are better than anything on its predecessor, and some that are startlingly worse.

The disc kicks off with MxPx's original "Christmas Day."  The song is a typical pop-punk anthem about love, and while it doesn't maintain a particular Christmas-esque spirit, it's fairly catchy and enjoyable.   Sixpence None the Richer's now-classic take on "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" immediately follows. Fans of Sixpence's mainstream radio smash "Kiss Me" may be turned off by the weirdness of the track, but for the rest of us, it's sublime.

All Star United sounds terribly overproduced on "I Wish It Would Be Christmas Everyday," but I get the impression that that's the point.  Still, the song is forgettable and lacks the charm of their normal work.  Thankfully, All Star's track is redeemed by Plankeye's version of "Jesu Bambino (The Infant Child)," which is leaps and bounds above "Away in a Manger" from the original Happy Christmas.  Accompanied by piano and acoustic guitar, Eric Balmer sings soft words barely intelligible in the mix.  The song then explodes into an emotive chorus of distorted guitars and bass drums before reverting back to Luis Garcia's softly sung "O come let us adore Him." The softness and beauty of this track is followed by the fast, fun "O Little Town of Bethlehem," played by Hangnail.

Up next is Joy Electric, with the original "Lollipop Parade (On Christmas Day)."  The song is very reminiscent of JE's early work, instead of the electronic punk of Robot Rock and CHRISTIANsongs.  Unfortunately, it is nearly ruined by a distracting, whip-cracking percussion effect.  Flight 180's rendering of "O Come All Ye Faithful" is incomparably better than their mediocre albums, and one wishes that they'd produce more quality work.

Starflyer 59's "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" shows that Jason Martin has found the perfect song for his moody trio to cover, and Viva Voce's "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" demonstrates their talent as much as any song I've heard by them.  It's a gem for sure, with its acoustically framed intro erupting into a perfect noise-rock anthem.  The Normals follow, with an excellent original, "Peace Child," which borrows heavily from the hymn "O Come O Come Emmanuel."

Fanmail's rendition of "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" is one of the disc's weakest tracks, sounding boring and repetitive toward the end.  Norway's "White Christmas" quickly redeems it, though, doing synthesizer tricks that Bing Crosby never could have imagined.  The quintessential "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," interpreted by newcomers Element is next.  Element is a female-fronted punk band, a rarity in Christian music.  However, they do a mediocre job on the song.

The jolly fat man gets the blues on The Deluxtone Rockets' track, "Santa Claus is Back in Town."  Santa's never sounded so cool, screeching out lines like this:

    Got no sleigh with reindeer
    Got no sack on my back
    But see me coming
    In a big, black Cadillac

If nothing else, the song proves that the Rockets can play more than swing music.  House of Wires follows, with the characteristically weak "Caroling, Caroling."  The highlight of the disc belongs to the closer, The Lost Dogs covering the David Seville classic "The Chipmunk Song," complete with updated dialog.  I don't want to spoil the track for you, though, so I won't reveal more than that.

Congratulations to Tooth & Nail for making another winner.  We're all looking forward to Happy Christmas Volume 3 next year.

Michial Farmer  11/7/99

If you have ever bought a Christmas album with a variety of artists, then you already know what Happy Christmas Vol. 2 is like: more cuts than you need to hear, some of which you like, some of which you can't stand. After one listen, you'll never play through the whole thing again.

Some of the selections are indistinguishable from one another, namely most of the punk tracks. From MxPx's "Christmas Day" to Hangnail's "O Little Town of Bethlehem" to Fanmail's "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus," there isn't exactly a freshness in approach. Female-fronted band Element makes "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" sound fun, but that's about it.

Things are the same on the electronic front. "Lollipop Parade (On Christmas Morn)" is a fine new song from Joy Electric. Norway, however, makes "White Christmas" sound like Erasure with a hangover, and House of Wires' "Caroling, Caroling" is just flat-out boring.

There are a few songs definitely worth hearing. In fact, the Lost Dogs' hilarious version of "The Chipmunk Song" is almost worth the price of the album. The more reverent tracks, like Plankeye's "Jesu Bambino (The Infant Child)" and The Normals "Peace Child (O Come Emmanuel)," also make the album somewhat worthwhile. The harmonies on Flight 180's "O Come All Ye Faithful" make for good listening, and Sixpence None the Richer's "You're a Mean One Mr. Grinch," although available elsewhere, fits in well here.

Buying this CD is like getting assured risk insurance. You know you're paying for something you might enjoy one month out of the year. If in January you suddenly feel disappointed, what were you thinking when you bought it?

Tommy Jolly 12/11/99


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