Christmas is a lot of things at once: an orgy of consumerism and a sacred time of reflection. This CD covers that range, from silly to serious. Musically, however, it's pure brilliance, with inventive new takes on old songs, lots of funky percussion and organ sounds and three really great Hanukkah songs to boot.
Few holiday songs deal with the crass side of the season, but here's an instant classic: "Elf's Lament," a tongue-in-cheek BNL original about the elves organizing into a union. Or is it a joke? Replace "elf" with "Chinese laborer" in the song, and you have a wry take on where Christmas really comes from. It doesn't hurt that the song has a great beat. There's more goofy stuff, too, like when the boys sing "Happy Birthday" to, you guessed it, Jesus.
They also do a far superior job than any incarnation of Band Aid on "Do They Know It's Christmas?" Another highlight is their medley "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen / We Three Kings" with fellow Canadian Sarah McLachlan. If you've become a Scrooge about Christmas music because it all sounds the same, let the Barenaked Ladies thaw your cold, cold heart.
Chris Isaak Christmas THREE STARS
Chris Isaak is a really cool guy and his voice is so dang smooth that you can't help but like his new Christmas CD, even if it really is only so-so. That voice helps him nail "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," and he sounds like he's channeling Roy Orbison on Willie Nelson's "Pretty Paper." On "Blue Christmas," you might think it's the King himself back behind the mic. Isaak has the guts to add a few originals into the mix, something few artists do on their way to cashing out with quickie Christmas CDs. "Washington Square" the best of his own songs, features the ever-popular "missing-you-at-Christmas" theme.
Less successful are numbers like "Last Month of the Year" and "Gotta Be Good," which sound a little like they were dreamt up over a little too much eggnog. Even worse is his take on "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," backed by Stevie Nicks, who sings the low part in a four-part harmony. (Trouble is, there are only the two of them singing.) But if you skip that one, there's plenty to like here.