Christmas Albums: Various Artists

A Very Special Christmas 5 (Polydor)
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The Independent Culture

Since its inception in 1987, producer Jimmy Iovine's A Very Special Christmas project has become the most remunerative series of benefit albums ever, raising more than $50m for the Special Olympics and providing training facilities for the developmentally disabled in over 140 countries. So, kudos to all concerned for that, though one should add a small caveat when considering this fifth entry in the series, which is almost entirely bereft of any compelling reason to purchase, save charity alone. In the first place, the bulk of the contributors are distinctly B-list, with only Stevie Wonder wielding the sort of completist collectability factor that this type of compilation needs to attract punters (by contrast, the first volume in the series featured Springsteen, Madonna and U2, amongst others). Secondly, the strategy of having the same studio band back most of the singers results in some clumsy mismatches, as when Macy Gray's routine run through "This Christmas (Hang All The Mistletoe)" is overlarded with flatulent horns and careless backing vocals. Thirdly, extemporising the chorus "Ooh, I like Christmas" over "The First Noël", as nu-metal punks Eve 6 do here, adds nothing to the original. Fourthly, well, the only tracks worth a second hearing are Dido's "Christmas Day", a fake pastorale on the theme of the wandering stranger in midwinter, and Stevie Wonder and Wyclef Jean's duet on "Merry Christmas Baby", a live performance illuminated by Stevie's natural grace. Otherwise, it's slim pickings indeed.