Christmas albums 2022: Who’s a shooting star and who delivered a turkey?
We listened to all of the 2022 Christmas albums, so you don’t have to. Here’s what you should play as you enjoy your mince pies
by: Marc Burrows
9 Dec 2022
Christmas album contenders: Alicia Keys, Debbie Gibson, Cliff Richard and Chris Isaak
A hit Christmas album that enters into annual rotation is one of the absolute holy grails of pop. If you can pull it off, then you are musical Santa, turning up every year, immortal, a gift that keeps on giving. Get it wrong? You’ve wasted time and money for a disc people will spin/stream once and never return to. Every year a range of artists from every corner of the charts give it a go. Hardly anyone needed to have bothered.
2022 brings the usual crop – venerable oldies, pop legends, chancing oddballs and more Silent Nights than Marcel Marceau holidaying in a trappist monastery in a room made of marshmallows. Will anyone succeed in breaking into the Christmas canon to quaff mulled ale in Wintervalhalla with Phil Spector, Mariah and Bublé? Or will they be joining Sia, Shatner and every pop-punk band ever in the Boxing Day bargain bin of history? Let’s find out.
The essential guide to Christmas albums 2022
The Pop Stars
Backstreet Boys – A Very Backstreet Christmas
Oh god, it’s awful. The superstar man-band have, unbelievably, never attempted a holiday album until now, for which we can only be grateful. If you’re expecting anything as propulsive as Backstreet’s Back then disappointment awaits. The boys emote horribly over insipid, lo-fi backing tracks that sound like one of those YouTube channels for “study beats” that features a school girl and a cat staring at the rainy Tokyo skyline. There’s dull as dishwater renderings of all the usual suspects – White Christmas, Silent Night, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, the lot, alongside a couple of originals, Christmas in New York and Together, that even one of those people that break world records for memory recall will be unable to hum seconds after it finishes. Finally, making Last Christmas this boring is painfully insulting to George Michael’s memory. Nobody is rocking their body here. Stick to Halloween, lads. 1/5
Alicia Keys – Santa Baby
The consummately slick and soulful R&B legend delivers the goods here with warm and jazzy takes on some classics. Her update of the title track keeps the slinkyness but adds a uniquely Alicia K atmosphere, a version of Christmas Time is Here from jazz great Vince Guaraldi’s classic Merry Christmas Charlie Brown soundtrack is gorgeous and there’s a stunning Ava Maria to round things off. It’s a solid mix of new and classic tracks, and while the favourites keep the spirit of the familiar originals, Keys adds little twists in the production that makes the retreads worthwhile. A consummate product from a consummate professional. 4/5
Joss Stone – Merry Christmas, Love
Everything Alicia Keys does right, Joss Stone does wrong. Often on the same songs. Obviously she’s got a lovely voice, but the arrangements are Hallmark channel carbon copies of ones you’ve heard a hundred times, and better. There’s no personality here. Sure she sings Silent Night beautifully, but loads of people sing Silent Night beautifully. The very definition of inessential. 1/5
Debbie Gibson – Winterlicious
The undisputed queen of 80s Mall Pop (that wasn’t Tiffany) makes her Crimbo debut and makes a pretty decent fist of it. There’s a couple of old faves here that at least attempt to reinvent the wheel, and there’s a bubblegum quality to her voice that adds some perky charm. Her twitchy, dramatic, Stevie-Nicksish take on God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen is great, and new song I Wish Every Day Was Christmas is the sound of classy, eternal festive pop from the Phil Spector school. You can, and probably should, go the rest of your life without having to hear her cover of The Candy Man though. 3/5
Macy Gray & The California Jet Club – Christmas With You
Arguably the best of the 2022 Christmas Crop; a classy, jazz-tinged and satisfyingly musical collection in which Gray and her band freshen up several classics, taking some quirky and bold turns which mostly pay off. Her polka version of Elvis’s Blue Christmas is, well, a choice, certainly, but her modern jazz reading of You’re A Mean One Mr Grinch is bonkers and wonderful. It takes real chutzpah to take on James Brown’s Santa Claus Go Straight To The Ghetto, and Gray has that in spades. A new song, Christmas With You is one of the best things she’s done in years. 5/5
Cliff Richard – Christmas with Cliff
If Mariah is the Queen of Christmas, Cliff is at least a minor royal, surely (possibly the Earl of Wessex?). Anyway, this is a Cliff Richard Christmas album, a sentence which tells you pretty much everything you need to know. Your mileage will vary on whether this is irredeemably naff, or comfortingly classic. He’s endearingly sincere on the hymns, utterly cringey on the pop stuff (Jingle Bell Rock really, really doesn’t) and, well … very, very Cliff Richard. There’s no Mistletoe and Wine or Saviour’s Day style bangers, alas, and a newie (Heart of Christmas) is probably the worst thing here, but the boy who once-upon-a-time was “the English Elvis” makes a very good show of the King’s Blue Christmas. One for the nans. 3/5
Neil Diamond – A Neil Diamond Christmas
Much like Cliff, this very much does what it says on the tin. Neil presents us with a double album here, with one disc of AOR oldies; an affecting version of Happy Christmas (War is Over), Jingle Bell Rock – thankfully a bit folksier and more organic than Cliff’s cheese platter version – and a stab at Santa Claus Is Coming To Town which nods to Springsteen’s arrangement, though with substantially less guts. There’s a lovely, slide-guitar led Silver Bells and a surprisingly rocking Winter Wonderland. It all does the job. Disc two, meanwhile, is comprised of carols and spirituals – Diamond doesn’t mess with the formula here; centuries-old tunes tend to work pretty well as written. Again, like Cliff, he’s endearingly sincere. An a cappella God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman is a decent stab at the Beach Boys’ version, Little Drummer Boy is a bit sickly sweet (Caroline) and Joy To The World probably doesn’t need the big rock treatment. Still, it does the job. 3/5
Chris Isaak – Everybody Knows It’s Christmas
Lovely, stripped back, rootsy, reverby rockabilly from the Wicked Game singer. There’s a great, melancholy, country-tinged original called Holiday Blues which makes a welcome entry into the “it’s Christmas and I’m sodding miserable” genre of festive tunes, a version of Jingle Bell Rock which actually does, and a great run through Chuck Berry’s Run Run Rudolph. Isaac is clearly having a ball here. The highlights are a totally charming new track, Dogs Love Christmas Too and a closing O Holy Night in which Isaak goes full Roy Orbison. Lovely stuff, honestly. 4/5
Louis Armstrong – Louis Wishes You a Cool Yule
Not strictly new, obviously, but since it’s the first dedicated collection of Armstrong’s festive-themed tracks it counts as a 2022 Christmas album. Naturally, it’s untouchably brilliant, from the big-band swing of opener Cool Yule, on which Sachmo’s trumpet sings to your very soul, to Armstrong’s unmistakable voice narrating A Visit From Saint Nicholas over fellow New Orleans jazz legend Sullivan Fortner’s cool-as-all-hell piano improvisation. A live take on Baby It’s Cold Outside with longtime collaborator Velma Middleton is the absolute stand out, though the appearance of Ella Fitzgerald on I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm is a close second. Do you need another version of White Christmas? Probably not, but at least this one was recorded within 10 years of Irving Berlin writing it, and honestly – no-one sings it like Sachmo. There’s a superfluous inclusion of the great jazzman’s calling card, What A Wonderful World which isn’t exactly a Christmas song … but then, is it really ever a bad time to listen to What A Wonderful World? If you’re buying one Christmas vinyl for that new record player you’ve asked Santa for, this is probably the one. 5/5
It’s surprisingly slim pickings in alternative rock world this year, with San Diego’s Switchfoot providing the only real contender. It’s a good one though – the one-time Christian rock band bring some real charm to yet-another-version-of The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on An Open Fire) and Christmas Time Is Here, while tweaking the melodies to Silent Night and O Little Town of Bethlehem works really well in both cases. Best of all are the originals though, notably the brilliant lo-fi fuzz of Scrappy Little Christmas Tree. Solid stuff. 4/5
Urgent action is needed to prevent even more people being pushed into homelessness. A secure home is the first step in addressing the cruel cycle of poverty to ensure people can fulfil their potential. Join us to keep people in their homes.