Every year, hordes of overly spirited musicians try to capture Christmas cheer in the studio. While there are some artists who can, in fact, create a respectable modern-day holiday tune, it’s safe to say that they’re few and far between.
Many holiday enthusiasts fail in attempts to cover songs from the Christmas canon, performing lackluster versions of songs such as the Vince Guaraldi Trio’s “Christmastime Is Here” or “The Little Drummer Boy” for the millionth time. For the most part, these have nothing new to offer.
Others, knowing they can’t top Burl Ives or Brenda Lee, try to create their own original holiday songs. A select few of these brave souls actually do it right. Run-D.M.C.’s “Christmas in Hollis” and more recently some of Sufjan Stevens’s prolific holiday tidings provide two contemporary examples. Everyone else? Their efforts fall somewhere between getting coal in your stocking and Santa blowing out your eardrums.
Being the holiday sadists that we are, we decided to seek out the worst of the worst contemporary holiday originals. To do so, we used the following criteria:
Good news! There's a new Jay-Z verse. Not as good news! It comes to us as part of the guy's latest collaboration with his BFF Chris Martin's band, Coldplay. Good news! It's all in the name of positivity and such, seeing as it was delivered last night in London during the 2012 Paralympics Closing Ceremony.
While Coldplay was the main event, Jay popped up a couple of times: first to lay down "Run This Town" alongside Rihanna (who'd shown up earlier to do her own Coldplay collabo, "Princess of China") and an army of sexy post-apocalyptic warriors, then to tack on his new 16 onto Coldplay's "Paradise." You can check out that new verse, which shouts out Gabby Douglas and her fellow sporting types, here:
Katy Perry wanted nothing more than for her album Teenage Dream to generate six straight number ones (thus beating a bunch of existing chart records), but her latest single wasn't quite generating the same sales hype as the others, despite a lavish cinematic video and tacked-on verse B.o.B. remix rerelease. In a The Gift Of The Magi twist, Russell Brand opted to divorce Perry over the holidays thus new baptizing "The One That Got Away" as a Katy Perry accidental Nostradamus self-clown. Perhaps Brand was only attempting to explain the abiding love Brits have for irony in their comedy but it worked, and Katy got her wish the hard way. Now she has to perform this song on stage while the public speculates about her personal life. Maybe that June and Johnny Cash reference wasn't so very far off. Teenage Nightmare? Grade: B+
By one metric, Coldplay’s latest album, Mylo Xyloto (released last week), is already a success. After one full week on the charts, it’s nabbed the No. 1 spot with 447,000 units sold. By another measure, though, it will be some time before we know how Mylo stacks up to the rest of the band’s catalog. And that measure is, of course, the manner and rate with which rappers mine Mylo tracks for samples. Historically, the mellifluous hooks and gentle harmonizing of the band has been a rich source for hip-hop. Jay-Z and Kanye took the practice a step further by actually hiring Chris Martin, for “Beach Chair” and "Homecoming,” respectively (As ‘Ye explained on “Big Brother,” he got burned on that one: “I told Jay I did a song with Coldplay / next thing I know he got a song with”). For a purer research field, though, we’re only looking at tracks that sampled pre-exisiting Coldplay jams (made possible thanks to the fine folks at WhoSampled). Herewith, a brief look back at the practice.
Please, allow this nice gentleman to welcome you to the new Black Keys album. It’s called El Camino, it’s out December 6th, and it is apparently so good it’ll make you want to lease and operate a motel just so you can dance in front of its offices whenever you want.
Coldplay is the band that everyone allegedly hates, but nevertheless is still one of the most popular in the world. Sometimes I try to imagine the audience that’s able to enjoy Coldplay without having to think about the group’s critical brand in the marketplace. Middle Americans? British people? People who drive cars with leather interiors? People who haven’t yet started listening to indie music to fulfill their emotional needs? A listener can’t properly analyze a new Coldplay album without first coming to terms with his or her own relationship with the band.
The two most Chris Martin-y things Chris Martin did today, in descending order:
1. Dressing like an elephant in Coldplay’s new video for “Paradise.” It’s not clear if he’s in the suit the whole time: the clip kicks off with the elephant man escaping from the zoo, then sojourning through Heathrow to the wilderness, then reconnecting with his instrument-playing elephant family (eventually, they play a huge arena to massive cheers). But at one point, while unicycling down the road toward his paradise, elephant man takes off his head, and it’s Chris. Did we mention that he’s unicycling?
A headline from Sunday’s New York Times "Arts & Leisure" section: "Chris Martin of Coldplay Asks: What Would Bruce Do?" In the article, Martin explains he’d been “watching a lot about Darkness on the Edge of Town” and other “real albums” in preparation for Coldplay’s latest, Mylo Xyloto; he also calls Springsteen, along with Jagger and Bono, one of his “great teachers.” So Martin’s caught the Bruce bug! It’s really been going around. In the last five years or so, both pup bands like the Gaslight Anthem and the Hold Steady, as well as megastars like Lady Gaga and the Killers, have recorded albums inspired by Bruce (reportedly, at some point during the Sam’s Town promo tour, for a minute or so, Brandon Flowers actually managed to convince himself he was Bruce Springsteen). Now, it’s Coldplay’s turn.
Genres must be judged on their terms. Just as we have with recent country and latin-pop charts, this week we grade Billboard's top 10 rock songs. The '90s are owning! The top three songs are the Last Man Standing of rock: nostalgic, familiar, and unsurprisingly resilient.
1. Foo Fighters, "Walk"
This is a VERY generic Foo Fighters song. Those are Foo Fighting words but I can't get too excited about the ultra-compressed go-get-'em alt-rock crunch of this song because I've heard it so many times already before. It gets a lot better toward the end when Grohl starts screaming about how he never wants to die. Grade: B
1. The abbreviation for Coldplay's new Rihanna-featuring "Princess of China," which leaked yesterday, as written on Coldplay message boards (yes I looked at some Coldplay message boards. Everyone seemed … nice) is "POC," which my first instinct was to read as the abbreviation for Person Of Color, although it is also apparently the abbreviation for Proof of Concept, Point of Contact, Port of Call, Piece of Cake, Prisoner Of Conscience, and Pirates of the Carribbean.
2. This song being called "Princess Of China" seems kindaaaa Orientalist considering there is no mention of China, just a vaguely Asiatic guitar riff. Then again the upcoming album is produced by Brian Eno, who named his second solo album Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy after a Maoist opera.
It's hard out there for a Coldplay hater these days. Which isn't to say they've silenced any critics by reinventing their bland sound or public image. It's just that they've been boring for so long — they release their fifth album, Mylo Xyloto, next month #&8212; that criticizing them for said boringness just feels like old hat. So here comes their new mawkish single, "Paradise," featuring lush strings, the quickie revival of the phrase “every teardrop is a waterfall,” and some seriously ambiguous optimism. This isn’t the newly announced track with Rihanna, by the way. That’s “Princess of China,” and it’s not out yet. If that one turns out to have a fake patois and Prince-indebted production from The-Dream, forget everything we just said.