Saturday, December 22, 2012

142 Phil Spector a Christmas gift for you. Blech.



Album: Phil Spector a Christmas Gift for you
Artist: Phil Spector
Genre: Christmas
Year: 1963



1. White Christmas
2. Frosty the Snowman
3. The Bells of St. Mary's
4. Santa Claus Is Coming to Town
5. Sleigh Ride
6. Marshmallow World
7. I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus
8. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
9. Winter Wonderland
10. Parade of the Wooden Soldiers
11. Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)
12. Here Comes Santa Claus
13. Silent Night


I'm not really a fan of Christmas albums. There are a lot of them out there and record companies love it when artists quickly whip together a collection of holiday themed hits for a quick Christmas cash in. Most of these are just deplorably bad even when they're recorded by artists I like. The Barenaked Ladies and Los Lonely Boys released appalling Christmas albums which immediately made me respect them less. Bruce Cockburn and the Indigo girls also succumbed to the lure of the Christmas album and while both did a creditable job it doesn't feel like their hearts where really in it. Their performances have "contractual obligation" oozing out of every note. Of course it would be remiss of me not to mention Bob Dylan's much maligned Christmas in the Heart which everyone seems to hate. I really like Christmas in the heart. It's not an album I turn to when I want to hear great Dylan but I do play it several times over Christmas (and it's worth pointing out that unlike most Christmas albums, all the profits of Dylan's release were donated to charity).

I'm also not much of a fan of Phil Spector. My idea of the perfect producer is one who keeps his distance and lets the musicians play. A good one can bring out something special in their artist (Daniel Lanois working with Dylan in 1989 for example) but most of them should sit back and let the band or artist get on with it as much as possible. The idea of producer as performer is not something that sits comfortably with me at all. This is the only album in the countdown which features the producer's name in the title (although in fairness it didn't in its original form). Spector felt the artist was just another thing for the producer to play with and his albums were all about his ability to create a wall of sound in which he piled on instruments, backing vocals and everything he could get his hands on in order to make a dense musical soundscape.

The end result is massively over produced. I don't deny it's hard to do. Layering everything onto a track and not losing the melody in amongst everything else is tricky but just not worth doing. While he might not lose the musical lines, Spector loses the impact of the music he's slathering instruments over the top of. You can still recognise White Christmas and Silent Night but that doesn't mean they sound like the songs you love, they sound like treacle poured over the songs you love.

I can imagine lots of people wanting to hear this around Christmas time. It probably gets pulled out of a few collections and dusted off in late December every year but personally I'll be keeping my distance. Even once a year is too much to hear this much over production on songs that I never really liked anyway. I saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus has nothing to do with the Christmas spirit to me. It's just an annoying song that nobody could turn into gold but Spector turns into goopy mush.

By the way, the fact that this review appears on this blog a few days before Christmas is entirely coincidental and just one of those happy things. It was just the next album I was due to write about.  But since I have, let me take the time to wish everyone who has read this blog over 2012 a Happy Christmas. I hope some nice person gives you some even nicer music on the 25th.

Highlight: Amazing timing.
Lowlight: Annoying production

Influenced by: Christmas and ego.
Influenced: Production standards.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Spector's a genious. I wish he'd make a few more like this." I'm sorry but Phil is a bit tied up at the moment. Unless they have a huge recording studio in his prison I don't think he's making too much Christmas music.

So does this fill you with the christmas spirit or would you need to filled with other spirits to sit through it? Let me know below.

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