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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Worst Christmas Music
(click here for the introduction)

Jingle All The Way
Crash Test Dummies


In 1993, they had a hit single, "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm," which really only caught your attention because of the bizarre bassoprofundo voice of lead singer Brad Roberts.

And that was about it, really. Tick, tick, tick... fifteen minutes came and went.

The band faded, broke up in 1999, and then re-formed in 2000 to record some songs that the lead singer wrote with some lobster fishermen he met while recuperating from nearly losing his arm. (No, that's not Spinal Tap, that's the real story). The band members started releasing solo albums, and perennial backup vocalist Ellen Reid tried to revive her singing career after years of being overshadowed by Roberts' freakshow baritone. But like all soloists that realize that there's comfort in the old band name--there's Spinal Tap again--they decided to gather under the "Crash Test Dummies" name and release a Christmas album in 2002.

Of course! A Christmas album, nine years after your one hit! Just the way to jump-start the band after you've already broken up!

This sort of ridiculous thinking will be a recurring theme in the next month and a half.

As you can expect from an album released by a "band" that is nothing more than an umbrella for solo projects, it is completely schizophrenic. Half the songs are pretty (but forgettable), sung competently by Ellen Reid. She provides the only standout track on the disc, the rarely-recorded* "Huron Carol." If that were the whole album, it wouldn't even be worth comment.

* "Rarely-recorded" means that there are only a dozen versions on iTunes, including Bruce Cockburn's version in the Huron language. A dozen counts as "rare" in Christmas circles.

But there's more. The other half of the album is--let's be frank--a deeply disturbing assault on the Christmas psyche. Brad Roberts' voice is creepy (there's just no other way to describe it), which sort of works in the indie-rock context, but definitely does not mean that he should sing these Christmas chestnuts as though he were a Dean Martin-style crooner. Doesn't he know he sounds so odd? Does he have no friends willing to speak up? The effect isn't Christmas, it's Frankenstein -- "Unh. UNNNNHHHHH. Why people no like me? I sing for you! Chestnuts Roasting By Open... ARGH! FIRE! FIRE!"

Don't believe me? I've posted "White Christmas" so you can get a sense of how weird this album is. It could be the theme song to some movie about a Christmas stalker. And if "Silent Night, Deadly Night" was your cup of tea, then by all means buy the song on iTunes. Otherwise, save yourself the grief.

The lingering question is why anyone released his half of the album. Monumental indifference? Or a coal-black soul?

I'll let you be the judge.

 9:29 AM

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