We're still more than a week away from Halloween. It's currently 74 degrees in in New York. Turkeys of North America walk unafraid, knowing their fate won't be determined for more than a month. If all that isn't enough to get you in the Christmas spirit, well, then we don't know what is.
After all, in the minds of the good people in the record industry, 'tis already the season, as evidenced by the stream of Christmas albums trickling into stores (and the full-blown Yule tidal wave coming over the next few weeks). And if the first crop of releases is any indication, no niche market will go unserved during Xmas '07. Want overblown, orchestrated versions of "Silent Night" and "Ave Maria" to play during candlelit, sweater-clad dinners? Josh Groban's Noël has got you covered. Looking for a countrified "I'll Be Home for Christmas" to blast during trips to Wal-Mart? Check out Diamond Rio's A Diamond Rio Christmas: The Star Still Shines. Are you a 9-year-old girl (or a middle-age, slightly overweight woman who owns several porcelain dolls)? A Looney Tunes Sing-A-Long Christmas is the album for you.
And with sooo many Christmas albums on the docket, how do you differentiate between a solid-gold stocking-stuffer and a Kris-Kringling lump of coal? Well, that's where we come in. Being the Xmas album experts we are, we've developed a complex scoring system that awards points for everything that makes the genre great, including cringe-inducing covers of the classics and genuine WTF-ness. In keeping with the spirit of the season, we didn't deduct points unless it was completely unnecessary.
We then tallied the total points and determined an album's sheer "Christmas-ocity" (which is less of a word than it is a state of mind). The higher the score, the better the album. And since Christmas just can't come soon enough (unless you subscribe to the beliefs of any of the world's other major religions), we decided to share the results with you now. Merry October!
» Album Toby Keith's A Classic Christmas (Show Dog Nashville, in stores now.)
Everyone's favorite super-patriot is back with a double-barrelled blast of sheer Christmas intensity. Al Qaeda beware! Makes a great gift for 9/11 reactionaries, flag-wavers, anyone who refers to themselves as "the big dog."
Classics Covered Twenty, spread over two discs. The first disc is all about traditional numbers — "Silver Bells," "Frosty the Snowman" — while the second skips all the formalities and gets right on down to a whole lotta Christian-tude: 20 points
Album Art The big dog lounges in an easy chair, cowboy/Santa hat perched atop his bleached locks. His stubbly chin rests on his hand in a subtly cocky yet slightly compassionate manner. This is probably what Christmas is like down at the ranch in Crawford: 5 points
WTF-nessThis promotional video for the album, in which a somber-looking Keith takes potshots at "the industry" for its lack of support, says he made A Classic Christmas so his fans could "enjoy a little bit more of the big dog" during the holidays and then describes himself as "not a real, real religious guy as far as reading the Bible every day" and "not a great role model at being a Christian" is fairly disturbing in its awkwardness. Sort of makes you feel sorry for Keith. Sort of: 25 points
Total Christmas-ocity 50 points
» Albums The Green Days of Christmas: The Holiday Tribute to Green Day and ... And Christmas for All: The Holiday Tribute to Metallica performed by Santa Claws and the Naughty but Nice Orchestra, a Vitamin Records house band (both on Vitamin and in stores Tuesday)
A pair of tribute albums that promise "the jingle of bells and horns" instead of "the fast licks of guitar solos," perfect for aging fans of both bands and, now that we think about it, aging members of both bands, too.
Classics Covered (either album) Versions of "Jesus of Suburbia" (since he's the reason for the season) and "For Whom the Bell Tolls," cause it's got the word "bell" in the title: 2 points.
Album Art Bad Santa + bad snowman + underwhelming design = 2 points
WTF-ness: The whole tribute thing has been done to death, resurrected and then done to death again. But replacing Kirk Hammett's guitar solos with Santa-worthy sleigh bells is certainly a questionable call: one worth, say, 2 points.
Total Christmas-ocity 6 points
» Album Relient K's Let It Snow Baby ... Let It Reindeer (Capitol, in stores Tuesday)
Squeaky-clean Christian pop-punkers drop pun-a-riffic Christmas album, which is actually just a bonus-track-heavy version of their previous Deck the Halls, Bruise Your Hand release. Just what your 13-year-old cousin was hoping for!
Classics Covered Seven — including "Deck the Halls" and "Handel's Messiah" (!) — wrapped around four actually pretty great Relient K originals, including "I Celebrate the Day" and "I Hate Christmas Parties." Seven points for the originals + 1 for the original called "Santa Claus Is Thumbing to Town" = 6 points
Album Art Two cutesy, nondescript reindeer smooching against a baby-blue background. Sort of the visual representation of Relient K's entire musical output: 5 points
WTF-ness There is truly nothing WTF about Relient K, except pretty much everything: 5 points
Total Christmas-ocity 16 points
» Album: Larry the Cable Guy's Christmastime in Larryland (Warner Bros., in stores October 30)
America's pre-eminent authority on all things "Git-R-done" returns with his second Christmas album, which, according to Warner, is a pseudo-concept record about "Larry indulging in a fantasy about having his own Christmas radio special." Also, a sentence featuring the words "Larry," "indulging" and "fantasy" might be the most potent nightmare fuel we've ever been subjected to.
Classics Covered "Farting Jingle Bells," "Medley of Carols," "Nativity Scene" and "Nutcracker" (guess what that one's about?): 4 points
Album Art The disembodied head of Larry (who, it should be added, is looking more like Fred Durst every day) floats eerily in space, wearing a Santa hat and a camo cap, a sprig of mistletoe around his neck. It looks as if he is gasping for air. Now this is some nightmare fuel: 10 points.
WTF-ness This is a Christmas-themed, concept-comedy record about a fictional radio special, starring the guy from "Delta Farce": 100 points.
Total Christmas-ocity 114 points
» Album Rick Springfield's Christmas With You (Gomer, in stores November 6)
The perfect gift for all you Rick Springfield fans out there (all 16 of you) ...
Classics Covered A whopping 14, including "The First Noel," "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" and the bizarre surf-themed "Deck the Halls (With Boughs of Longboards)": 14 points.
Album Art Rick sort of looks like a sad buccaneer drunkenly contemplating his failures on a Caribbean beach, a battered acoustic guitar and a tinsel-strewn Christmas tree his only company. A man alone in his thoughts and the world. Which, when you think about it, may be a pretty apt metaphor for his entire career post "Jessie's Girl": 20 points
WTF-ness The album kicks off with "Christmas With You," an "extremely moving original track ... dedicated to all of our fallen troops": 30 points
Total Christmas-ocity 64 points.
AlbumCaptain & Tennille's The Secret of Christmas (Retroactive Entertainment, in stores November 6)
Spend your Christmas with the creepy old guy in a captain's hat who's not your drunk uncle. And Tennille!
Classics Covered Six, though those are interspersed with seven originals by the Captain and/or Tennille, including "Daryl of the Bells" ("A musical trip through the mind of 'the Captain!' " a press release trumpets) and "Boogie Baby Christmas." 6 points for the classics, -7 points for originals = -1 point.
Album Art The stardust background. The Captain's denim dress shirt. The Captain's music-note tie. The Captain's strange resemblance to Jeffrey Jones. Tennille's strange resemblance to my Aunt Janice. 50 points!
WTF-ness It's Captain & Tennille. They pretty much invented the term: 50 points
Total Christmas-ocity 99 points