Album begs question ‘Why?’

Published December 1, 2002

Most Christmas albums that are released in today?s secular market are more a case of marketing savvy than a statement of faith in the Incarnate Lord. However, there is something particularly unsettling about Jingle All The Way …, the new release from the Crash Test Dummies. The reason is simple. Brad Roberts, the band?s leader, songwriter, frontman, and only constant in a career that began in Winnipeg in the late 1980s has always been a deep prober with a penchant for obtuse lyrics, dark storylines, and spiritual reflections. However, his artsy ruminations about God did not ever mean that the Christian religion was particularly resonant for him.[pullquote]That has not changed with this album of secular and sacred Christmas standards, and his unique oh-so-deep baritone voice often has a sneering tone that is, quite frankly, a poor fit on Christmas pieces that mean so much to so many people. Be it the flute-carried jazz of God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen, the eastern-tinged read of We Three Kings, or the jig-like treatment of Good King Wenceslas, the musical execution and interpretation is always top flight. However, one cannot shake the notion that Roberts is laughing up his sleeve all the while.Less of a jolt are the secular pieces, though Roberts? attempts to be clever and witty remain. In White Christmas, he does a lounge lizard treatment with some spoken word vocalizing that suggests a poor man?s Leonard Cohen, and he morphs Jingle Bells into an eastern European minor chord polka. The breaths of fresh air are provided by second vocalist Ellen Reid. Her treatments are straighter, be it a pedal steel weeper treatment of O Little Town Of Bethlehem and an equally countryish Silent Night on the one hand or a regal treatment of The Little Drummer Boy and a spellbinding version of The Huron Carol on the other. Her tracks are the album?s true highlights. I guess I like my carols a bit reverential. As such, the album Jingle All The Way … is problematic. By so clearly poking fun at the sincere statements of the Christian faith reflected in the carols, Roberts raises questions as to just why he has put this album out as the latest Crash Test Dummies statement. One wonders just who the target audience could possibly be ? other than himself. Wilfred Langmaid is Anglican chaplain at the University of New Brunswick and music critic for the Frederiction Gleaner.


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