Sufjan Stevens: Songs For Christmas
One disc of whimsical festive tunes would’ve been OK. But five?
Seeing as the world’s retailers, radio programmers and town councils seem to think that Christmas begins in early November, why not stave off holiday fatigue by starting a general strike? If it’s a two-month Christmas, after all, we should have a two-month holiday, sure as eggnog is eggnog. Handily, this would also provide time to digest Sufjan Stevens’ typically ambitious 42-song, five-disc Christmas collection, although you may need an Alka-Seltzer afterwards.
It’s pleasant enough, but the problem is that what elevates Stevens above your average OC-soundtracking bleeding-heart folkster is his complex and intelligent lyrics. When warmly buffered by mince pies, mulled wine and goodwill to all men, that edge is blunted. Musically, also, too many tracks are smothered in sugarplum harmonies, Coke-advert sleighbells and sickly strings.
‘That Was The Worst Christmas Ever!’ is better, ditching fuzzy festivity for a more honest look at yuletide with the nearest and dearest. Easily the best, though, is the bleakly beautiful ‘Sister Winter’ in which Stevens explores the guilt of living up to the holiday. “I should be grateful, I should be satisfied,” he frets, “but now my heart is cold as ice”.
The renditions of traditional songs are lovely, but don’t feel necessary; there’s a good single album here in need of editing. You don’t need two versions of ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’, and you definitely do not need ‘Amazing Grace’. Christmas may be a time for forgiving, but let’s not get carried away. Humbug, anyone?