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Although spooky season is still upon us, pop icon Cher has already moved on to the next holiday, having just released music she described as one of the “most amazing” highlights of her career. The highlight is none other than a 13-song holiday album simply titled “Christmas.” Despite a five year break between “Christmas” and her last album, “Dancing Queen,” Cher was able to feature artists as wide-ranging as Stevie Wonder, Cyndi Lauper, and Tyga.
According to Cher herself, the whole album is a celebration, rather than elegy, of her late mother, Georgia Holt. This optimistic sentiment is reflected in the album’s theme of holiday love. While holiday albums are a dime a dozen, Cher gives her own take on the saturated genre by combining mid-twentieth century doo-wop and early 2000s dance-pop with beloved holiday classics. Of course with an album titled “Christmas,” there is a traditional holiday appeal. Cher’s Christmas spirit is largely achieved through conventional means like jingle bells and seasonal, lyrical motifs (e.g. mistletoe, Santa Claus, etc.)
“Christmas” is at its best when Cher leans into one of two genres: big band ballads of the ’50s and ’60s and dance-pop tracks reminiscent of her 1998 hit “Believe.” One standout track from the former category is “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) (with Darlene Love).” In this cover of Love’s 1963 song of the same name, Cher and Love show off their ability to harmonize, mostly singing in tandem rather than taking separate verses. With each high note and vocal run, their powerful voices push each other to greater heights. The result is a rousing Christmas anthem that makes you want to sprint toward the nearest Christmas tree farm.
“Angels in the Snow” is a similarly strong track. This upbeat, vaguely ’80s dance-pop song spotlights the album’s overarching theme of holiday love. “Wherever we are, wherever we go / We’ll always be angels in the snow,” Cher assures her lover. Wintry lyrics like these and jingle bells in the background make the track feel festive, but it is still catchy and danceable overall. The combination of these elements makes “Angels in the Snow” and the other original songs on “Christmas” uplifting anthems for the holiday season.
One experimental, yet highly successful track that deviates from these genres is “Drop Top Sleigh Ride (with Tyga).” It opens with Cher chanting, rather than singing, “Hey, are you ready to roll,” then proceeds with a bass and 808-heavy instrumental. In the third verse, Tyga raps highly suggestive, Christmas-themed statements like “Will you ride my sleigh tonight?” These rap elements would be astonishing on any Christmas album, let alone one by Cher. Still, the track is surprisingly festive and cohesive, as the jingle bells and Cher’s silken vocals soften its more unconventional parts.
Even with these standouts, “Christmas” loses its excellence when Cher departs from the aforementioned styles. One such departure is “Home (with Michael Buble).” Rather than vintageness or danceability, “Home” opts for a slow, sad, and guitar-heavy atmosphere. It is an unusual choice given that Cher has publicly stated she wanted to avoid overly sweet or mournful songs like “Silent Night.” “Home” proves to be just that, as Cher and Buble trade musical laments and repeat “I want to go home.” Though the track gives both singers a chance to exhibit their rich timbres, its slow tempo and melancholic air makes it an outlier from the otherwise bubbly album. “Christmas” would have been more cohesive if “Home” had been released as a single or omitted entirely.
On the other end of the spectrum, several songs display too much holiday cheer. In original songs like “This Will Be Our Year” and “Christmas Won’t Be Christmas Without You,” Cher tries to create modern holiday classics that all end up sounding the same. Their medium tempo, overuse of jingle bells, and exhaustion of simple words like “Christmas” amount to nothing more than pine-scented mediocrity.
Despite these shortcomings, “Christmas” is a strong showing overall. Christmas music is a calcified genre that leaves people listening to the same songs made 20, 40, and even 60 years ago. Thus, it’s admirable that Cher produced four original songs that, although generic, successfully put you in the holiday mood. If nothing else, her covers of holiday classics like “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” deserve to be enshrined in seasonal playlists for years to come.
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