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The jingle of sleigh bells welcomes in a surprisingly vulnerable EP from the former Disney Channel star who has defined her career with irreverent pop hits and vocal versatility. Sabrina Carpenter released her first Christmas EP “Fruitcake” on Nov. 17, delving into love and romance during the holiday season in a variety of moods.
The first track, “A Nonsense Christmas,” a remix of Carpenter’s arguably most popular song “Nonsense” first released last year, is an emblematic opener. A Christmas-themed remix might seem like an odd choice, but “Nonsense” features a unique outro every time Carpenter performs it so “A Nonsense Christmas” is a perfect opportunity for Carpenter and her team to flex their songwriting and they do not disappoint. Hardly a line goes unadorned with Christmas-themed allusions and euphemisms — “Think I only want you under my mistletoe / I might change your contact to ’Has a Huge North Pole’” make immediately clear that the song’s message of being ridiculous while you want someone has become a Christmas tune, and hilarious lines like “I need that Charles Dickens” and “I'm out here trimmin' the tree” bring her characteristic playfulness to the holiday season.
The following track, “buy me presents,” is a similarly bright and bouncing tongue in cheek love song. Written by Sabrina Carpenter, Steph Jones, and John Ryan (who was also the producer), it’s bursting with Christmassy wordplay, as she likens her lover to Santa, “He’s a little bit older (Like, super old) / Got a bit of a dad bod…” with whimsically perverse comparisons. It’s lower tempo than “A Nonsense Christmas” as Carpenter moves into the lowercase titles she will use for the rest of the album, featuring smooth atmospheric production and backline asides and adlib vocals that make the sound full and treat the comic premise with sincerity. The sax solo before the final chorus is the icing on the cake.
The mood shifts calmer and further into introspection with the third track, “santa doesn’t know you like i do.” The ballad starts quiet and slow before the bass line kicks in, and it becomes a soft but driving yearning for a previous relationship. Where previous songs were overtly playful, this shift into longing and vulnerability is welcome, and the juxtaposition between the snare kicks and gentle production create a sad song that’s confused about whether it wants to dance. The spoken word bridge — perhaps reminiscent of “skinny dipping” — calms the song for its final minute. All of these elements probably shouldn’t go together, but the unified Christmas themes, supplemented by the Christmas bells in the production, make this ambitious, pretty song surprisingly coherent.
At a length of three minutes and ten seconds, “santa doesn’t know you like i do” is the longest song on the album, and the only one longer than three minutes. The sub-three minute pop song is a contentious issue on its own — it’s hard to say that any of the songs are definitely missing something, but there is some lack of memorability that each song having just a bit more might have addressed.
This is followed by the saddest song on the album, “cindy lou who,” referencing the protagonist of “The Grinch,” as Carpenter reckons with who her lover has moved on with. The gentle piano and soft synths alongside Carpenter’s airy vocalizing make the song about muted acceptance and melancholy feel like it’s ready to float away. “The boy who I love is now in love with you / Cindy Lou Who,” Carpenter sings, complicating the song’s subject as the cry on “Who” rings out.. Is Cindy Lou Who the sweeter girl her ex has fallen for, or is she reflecting on the situation to herself The movement of the production elements complements the singer’s unresolved questioning throughout.
The beat picks up again with “is it new years yet” as she lyrically and sonically bounces back.
The spoken word chorus is up tempo as Carpenter is over her heartbreak, wanting to literally and temporally move on, before staccato harmonies that take the song to clear dance beat territory. The title comes in with “Fruitcake just makes me sick (Ugh)” as she complains about the farce of holiday season, and the return to describing her boredom and mockery acts as a needed dose of levity. The accenting bells are bright, and the audio panning throughout is a dose of fun that the song describes being needed.
“Fruitcake” closes with “white xmas,” a mixed bag of references to famous Christmas lyrics. Carpenter’s vocal talent shines as always, but it feels like a showy, highly-skippable outro more than a fully developed song. “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas,” she begins, with minimal production and old-school singing. It picks up with repeated vocalizing of “Da-da-da-dum,” but before the song can find its stride, she slows down again, vocally flexing again with admittedly pretty runs. The song ends with another curveball, shifting into some “jingle bells, the jingle bells, jingle all the way” to close out the album. The covers perhaps cement “Fruitcake” as a Christmas album, but her devotion to clever wordplay and well-chosen subjects were already enough.
Featuring five songs in under 16 mins, “Fruitcake” is a very bite-sized but worthy holiday album. It follows a clear arc through joy and playfulness towards introspection and forlornness back into confidence, and though some of the songs risk being forgettable on their own, it’s a cohesive and dynamic EP. Overall, “Fruitcake” is a promising extension of the artist who created “emails i can’t send fwd:” — a deluxe of her 2022 album, “emails i can’t send,” that Carpenter is still promoting with a surprise music video for “Feather” released on Halloween — and a good sign for the direction of her future releases and longevity as an artist who has been releasing albums since she was fifteen. Though “Fruitcake” is unlikely to be a commercial smash hit, it certainly deserves to be put on repeat over the holiday season.
—Staff writer Millie Mae Healy can be reached at email@example.com.
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