The Phantom Tollbooth
 December 1998 Pick of the Month


The Christmas Attic
Artist: Trans-Siberian Orchestra
Label: Atlantic Recording/Lava, 1998
Time: 72:23 / 16 tracks

While I was looking for background material for my Christmas Eve & Other Stories review, I was thrilled to discover that the Trans-Siberian Orchestra was about to release another album. I had to have it right away, of course.

Like Christmas Eve & Other Stories, the songs of The Christmas Attic largely revolve around the telling of a Christmas story:

Once again the Lord had given him (the youngest angel) a quest, to return to earth on the night of Christmas Eve and…to leave the one thing behind that would most benefit all of mankind. At first he thought that this would be easy...but he could bring nothing with him from the heavenly world....he must arrive and leave the earth with only his soul...the Angel suddenly felt his soul being touched by the prayer of a child....earlier that day some older children had told her that Christmas was not real....she found herself unable to sleep as she tried to figure out what the truth of this situation was....Then all at once, the shadow of a child's idea started to form in her mind....Minutes later the child would discover that the trunk was filled with numerous items that evoked memories...but the most interesting thing in that trunk was a small stack of yellowed letters and Christmas cards....The letters were all from different individuals each with a different story of how Christmas had touched their lives....(later) she realized that there was something magical about this day. Her friends.…The Angel noticed that the night was now nearly over and he had very little time left to complete his mission when he suddenly realized that his quest was already finished.

When I first discovered the tie between the story and the music in Christmas Eve and Other Stories, I was fascinated both by the wonderful message of Paul O'Neill's story and the stupendous music. One always wonders after a great debut album, can the group follow it up with an equally successful sequel? In this case, the answer here is a resounding YES. This is another outstanding album from a true artist (who ever said metal artists have no talent needs to listen to this--many of the musicians are associated with the metal band Savatage).

Blending the music and the story together is also very effective, giving the album real cohesion, which is helped by excellent production. Like the previous album, this one also combines the impact of both an orchestra and a full chorus with a rock ‘n' roll band's harder edge and passion in a symphonic operatic rock format. Plenty of massive guitar and piano work dominate most the pieces which often blend traditional Christmas songs with both new music and a lot of classical music, such as Beethoven's "Ode to Joy."

The outstanding "The Three Kings and I (what really happened)," which melds "O Holy Night" with a jazzy black gospel sounding tune, is my personal favorite and both an interesting and humorous take on the story of the three kings.

The album has some wonderfully inspirational truths, too. In fact, it is like a gift to the listener which reflects the truth of the Christmas spirit. "The Music Box" points out:

Then the Angel whispered to her
A most important fact
That for compassion to be real
It requires one to act
And "The Snow Came Down'' points out:
And suddenly she realized
Beneath this night of stars
Sometimes Christmas uses its own hands
And sometimes it uses ours
I can't wait until Christmas gets closer so I can play these two albums back to back without getting odd looks from people at work wondering why I'm playing Christmas music at Halloween. They're both so good, this one especially, that I may still be listening at Easter, if not all year. The Christmas Attic would be a wonderful addition to anyone's library. It has that outstanding timeless quality that will keep you listening for years.
For we all seem to give our lives away
Searching for things that we think we must own
Until on this evening
When the year is leaving
We all try to find our way home
(from "Find Our Way Home")
Shari Lloyd  (11/2/98)

Note: Rumor has it, PAX TV is airing an original special called The Christmas Angel on December 15, featuring the music of Trans-Siberian Orchestra. A sing-a-long version may also air on December 22. Check your local listings to find your station or channel.