Just Say Noel

White (Boy) Christmas
On the white R&B front, how harmless is boy group du jour 'N Sync, as heard in Home for Christmas? Don't worry, parents, ''Under My Tree'' isn't as racy as it sounds: First, they're promising ''no one else but me and you'' under the influence of the mistletoe and soft music, but then they're adding, ''I wish that Santa could be here to see!'' — a real seduction snuffer of a cry for a chaperone. At your own pace, lads, at your own pace. For anyone as sick of standards as we are, 'N Sync does provide a Christmas album where 11 of 14 tracks are promisingly unfamiliar. But better they should stick with what works, as your grandma would say. Their writing stable simply strings together sentimental-sounding non sequiturs, an hour-plus of which ultimately renders their initially alluring, smooth-as-a-baby's-bottom harmonies vaguely robotic. C

For the real boys of winter, we refer you to the Beach Boys, whose Ultimate Christmas is this season's best bet, even if the newest tracks do date back more than two decades. Capitol has repackaged the entirety of the highly regarded 1964 Beach Boys' Christmas Album with 14 bonus tracks, seven of which derive from aborted 1977 sessions for a planned holiday-themed follow-up. The extremely rare '74 single ''Child of Winter'' makes its long-awaited legal CD bow, as does a gem heretofore known exclusively to bootleggers, ''Christmas Time Is Here Again,'' a delightful garage rocker nominally set to the tune of ''Peggy Sue'' that coulda been a Top 40 contender in '77. ''She's so pretty but I'm so young/But when I'm 16 I'm gonna have some fun!'' sings Al Jardine, who, unlike those 'snappers in 'N Sync, knows exactly how pubescent he is; nervously awaiting a certain Nick at night, he excitedly adds, ''I wonder if I'll ever get to sleep again!'' Here, and in previously released sandbox classics like ''Little Saint Nick'' and ''The Man With All the Toys,'' we have a true child's Christmas in wails. A

Squirrel Nuts Roasting
But there comes a time to put away childish things... and then to take them up again, in celebration of one's own elfin charges. ''We will rock you, rock you, rock you,'' sings not-so-rockin' new mom Shawn Colvin in the very quiet Holiday Songs and Lullabies, recorded while she was pregnant with her first child. A babe in these woods couldn't ask for a better birthday present than an album that offers props to both Maurice Sendak and Vince Guaraldi. Colvin's already proven herself an interesting interpreter of other pop writers, but we'll have to wait for another occasion to hear her ''Christmas Song''; the choices here tend toward ''In the Bleak Midwinter,'' ''The Christ Child's Lullaby,'' and ''Close Your Eyes.'' You don't even have to be a junior-league insomniac to luxuriate in the sweet somnambulism; anyone needing a tonic for December shopping and bickering might take her up on it. A-

Colvin's is one of the year's two most eclectic major Christmas releases. The other would be the Squirrel Nut Zippers' Christmas Caravan, a highly likable, if not always especially memorable, set of mostly original material from the ''Hell''-raising revivalists. Their tastes run from a lively Dixie ''Sleigh Ride'' to a bluegrass-ballad retelling of O. Henry's ''Gift of the Magi'' to the lonely, self-explanatory ''A Johnny Ace Christmas.'' Best is one of only two covers on the disc, the sexy and all too rarely revived ''Winter Weather.'' B

Wrappers' Delight
On the compilation front, EMI's Sounds of the Season is destined to be a top seller by virtue of its $5-6 price tag, available only in Target stores. Most of the tracks are either previously unreleased in the U.S. or freshly minted; new to us is the Spice Girls' ''Sleigh Ride,'' which plagiarizes the Phil Spector arrangement note for note except for substituting a depressingly metronomic beat. Biggest curiosity: Everclear's seemingly homoerotic take on ''Santa Baby.'' Please don't tell us where you're putting that ring you're asking Saint Nick for, guys. C+

America's never had a Christmas compendium as comprehensive as the CD collections that appear in Europe, probably due to rights difficulties. One of the closest yet is Ultimate Christmas (not to be confused with the Beach Boys' disc of the same name), which rounds up Kings Nat and Elvis, sweater bearers Como and Mathis, Der Bingle, and Judy Garland's original tragic version of ''Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.'' Since the disc's on Arista, though, Clive Davis will exact a price for offering such near completeness — namely, making you also suffer through Carly Simon's and Kenny G's holiday tuneage, which sounds like Ultimate Sacrifice, if you ask us. B

Originally posted Dec 04, 1998 Published in issue #461 Dec 04, 1998 Order article reprints
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