Why Bob? Why? A Christmas album? Really? Is it for the money? No, all proceeds go to charities. Couldn’t you have just asked us to donate money? We would have in order to avoid this, I promise! Have you lost your touch? No, your last few albums, “Modern Times” and “Together Through Life” prove that you still have that magic touch. Then why Bob? Why a Christmas album of covers by our country’s greatest songwriter?
The only answer that seems to work is that Bob is testing us. And really, looking back over his 50 year career, he’s fucked with us a lot. From his days as a folk hero, to the day he turned to the dark side and plugged in his instrument. From his days as a born again Christian in the 80s, to his 90s work as a 1950s revivalist. Bob is basically the music equivalent to Andy Kaufman, always testing us and surprising us with an unexpected heel turn just when we think we have him pegged.
Through his career, one constant in Dylan’s ever-changing sound is the fact that he does things his way, never giving in to his label’s request and always staying true to his craft. Heck, our website pays tribute to the man for being a beacon of independence. But Bob doesn’t care about our reverence. Once again he’s gone against expectation, doing the most corporate of corporate things and recording an overly produced, schmaltzy Christmas album.
The music backing Dylan sounds exactly like the classic Christmas tunes we grew up on: jingling jingle bells, harmonizing choir boys “oohing” and “ahhing”, and a sweeping string section to top it all off. The only difference between Dylan’s Christmas album and a Bing Crosby Christmas is the voice singing the songs. Bob’s voice is at its worst here. Either he had the swine flu while recording or sometime between “Together Through Life” and “Christmas in the Heart” Bob entered a cocoon and emerged as Tom Waits.
With Bob’s voice a-rasping, you can’t help but giggle through the majority of the album. He can’t be serious, can he? He sounds like your drunk uncle growling out Christmas carols while spilling splashes of his egg nog on the wrapping paper covered carpet. Is this a joke? If he was aiming for a comedy Christmas, he’s got himself a hit album, but I get the sense he is very serious about these classic holiday standards. Dylan’s radio show makes it patently apparent that the guy has a strong admiration for the music he grew up on, and that same passion for the past can be heard on this album. But did it have to be a torturous 15 songs?
The album does have its moments, although few and far between. The first minute of “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” seems darkly depressing, giving a new perspective to the classic. Then of course, the over-production says a big “fuck you” to the listener with a barbershop quartet stepping in and erasing any semblance of artistic sentiment. “Christmas Island” shows Dylan having some fun with a ukulele, and “Must Be Santa” is a rip-roaring polka romp that will have you on your feet, square dancing around the Christmas tree with a mug of Warsteiner in your hand.
Who knows what Dylan is thinking, and I guess that’s a good thing. The day he does what we expect is the day we need to register him in a nursing home. I’m just waiting for the Tony Clifton version of Dylan.