Yuletide Jeers 

Ho-ho-hold your horses before diving in to this season's crop of musical dreck.

With Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas raking in millions at the box office, it's no wonder Frank Zappa's good-for-nothing son Dweezil decided to cover "You're a Mean One Mister Grinch," a track that didn't even make it onto the Grinch soundtrack (which boasts bigger stars such as Busta Rhymes, the Barenaked Ladies, 'N Sync, and Faith Hill), for his new album Automatic. The song, which opens with a few bars from the Seuss original before Dweezil launches into a snotty refrain and starts rocking out like a retard, represents the kind of opportunistic ventures that take place every year in the name of spreading Yuletide cheer. Starting as early as October, the music industry annually churns out numerous Christmas albums, few of which have any artistic merit and most of which wouldn't even make good stocking stuffers.

And the amount of Christmas fodder runs deep. At ArtistDirect.com, for example, you can bid on celebrity Christmas gifts, including holiday stockings autographed and decorated by artists such as Cher, Collective Soul, Everlast, Galactic, Godsmack, Kenny G, Kenny Loggins, Mandy Moore, Primus, Rob Zombie, Tori Amos, and Vince Gill. At press time, the bidding was rather slow, but Cher and Amos were already commanding close to 300 bucks for their handcrafted socks. ArtistDirect is also hawking items that range from a flame-embossed Pantera stocking to an ornament with an image of Tom Petty playing guitar on it and a latte mug inscribed with Aimee Mann's name (wrapped with a big red bow, it comes with a package of cocoa).

But the music is what really matters, right? And the biggest name putting out a Christmas disc this year is Christina Aguilera, the teen slut who's trying to get the most out of her 15 minutes of fame before her career evaporates. Aguilera, who recorded some of My Kind of Christmas at Cleveland's Buchanon Studios, has included a Christmas video on her enhanced disc. It features footage of Aguilera as an innocent child opening presents on Christmas morning and is interspersed with images of her singing in a candlelit studio -- it's undoubtedly designed to dispel those rumors that Eminem and Fred Durst have been spreading about what a blowjob queen she is. But we're not buying it. There's something racy about her singing, "This year I'm gonna take you home/This year I don't wanna be alone" in "This Year" and "I'm all lit up like a Christmas tree" in "Merry Christmas, Baby." Aguilera also appears on the forgettable Platinum Christmas, singing "Silent Night" alongside contributions from fellow teen stars such as Britney Spears, 'N Sync, and the Backstreet Boys -- not the kind of talent to put some life into seasonal ballads that have been done too many times over the years.

Like Platinum Christmas, All-Star Christmas, a collection of mainstream pop artists, tries to enlist the biggest names in the effort to cash in on the holiday spirit. Yet Celine Dion's painful rendition of "The Christmas Song," Charlotte Church's pious reading of "The Little Drummer Boy," and Donny Osmond's bland version of "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" are all far too saccharine. The same goes for A Very Ally Christmas, an album that features Calista Flockhart and the show's cast doing seasonal songs. Flockhart sings a wispy version of "Santa Baby," but Vonda Shepard does the bulk of the work here, presenting "Please Come Home for Christmas" and "Let It Snow" with all the faux-jazz-singer attitude that she exudes on TV. Recovering drug addict Robert Downey Jr. even gets into the spirit of things, teaming up with Shepard for a version of "White Christmas" that makes you wonder what kind of white stuff he's singing about. The only redeeming track on the disc is Canton native Macy Gray's raspy-throated rendition of "Winter Wonderland."

There's plenty of tasteless Christmas music out there, too. Lynyrd Skynyrd's Christmas Time Again is the perfect soundtrack for a white (trash) Christmas. The album's cover -- an image of Santa driving a pickup truck with deer horns on the hood -- speaks to the redneck nature of the disc, which includes Skynyrd doing honky-tonk renditions of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "Run Rudolph Run." Charlie Daniels and .38 Special join in with "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" and "Hallelujah, It's Christmas," respectively. Weird Al wannabe Bob Rivers pairs up with the Chipmunks for the equally tasteless Chipmunks Roasting on an Open Fire, a 15-track collection of songs featuring the irritating cartoon characters goofing around with Rivers in a series of dull-witted skits.

The more discriminating Christmas music fan will seek out seasonal songs from the fringes. Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo fame uses electronic gadgetry to make a series of strange instrumentals (with titles such as "Midnight Wind-Up Toy" and "I Don't Have a Christmas Tree") for his Joyeux Mutato, one of the quirkier seasonal products. And cult soul singer Andre Williams sings an X-rated song called "Poor Mister Santa" that's only available on a 7-inch put out by Norton Records.

We must admit we're still partial to some of the ghosts of Christmas past: Snoop Dogg rhyming about hanging out with the gangstas and 'hos on Christmas Eve in "Santa Claus Goes Straight to the Ghetto" on 1996's Christmas on Death Row; a deranged Daniel Johnston singing "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" on 1995's You Sleigh Me!; and the dBs turning out the twangy original "Home for the Holidays" on 1990's Just in Time for Christmas. Rhino collections such as Just Can't Get Enough: New Wave Xmas (featuring XTC, the Pogues, Wall of Voodoo, and Los Lobos) and Punk Rock Xmas (with the Damned, Fear, Pansy Division, and the Ramones) are still fun (and in print), even though they were originally released five years ago.



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