Christmas Albums 2013

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 10th December 2013.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Such a shame then, that the holiday season has to come with such awful music. That’s right, it’s Christmas album season. Every December, musicians around the globe have just a few short weeks to cash in with generally horrible albums which are completely useless 11 months of the year.

BYO earplugs folks. Let’s trawl through the latest holiday music offerings competing for your, or at least your grandmother’s, hard earned present money.

First up is Leona Lewis, 2006 winner of The X Factor in the UK. Christmas, With Love is a Motown style album of traditional fare, such as O Holy Night, Winter Wonderland and Silent Night as well as some original material. Lewis has a similar voice to Mariah Carey and the album could easily be mistaken for one of Carey’s mega successful Christmas releases. For my money though, if it’s a Motown Christmas you’re after, you must listen to A Christmas Gift for You From Phil Spector. It’s the best Christmas album ever.

Typing of Motown, Australian vocal group Human Nature have also unleashed a Christmas album, imaginatively titled The Christmas Album. On a recent trip to Las Vegas, I was surprised to be confronted by huge advertisements for their Motown show at The Venetian, proclaiming their “modern twist” on the genre. I suppose a quartet of squeaky clean white guys from Australia performing music of a predominantly black origin is a “modern twist”. I look forward to their upcoming negro spirituals album.

Human Nature have been running their Vegas act for the past 4 years. Good luck to them I say. And thank you for permanently performing so far away from me. Back to the task at hand. If your idea of a good time is being stuck in an elevator during the Christmas sales, then this is the album for you.

Remember the band Heart? They had a huge hit in the eighties with All I Wanna Do is Make Love to You, but have actually been around since the early seventies. Well sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson are back with a new Christmas EP, catchily entitled Heart Christmas Single 2013. No longer the hard rocking act of yesteryear, they’ve teamed up with soul crooner Aaron Neville and eighties heartthrob Richard Marx on two holiday themed original songs. This one is strictly for the fans, and anyone who thinks that all they wanna do is have a nice cup of tea and a lie down. File under bland.

What’s better than a Christmas album? The answer is a Christmas single. At least it’s all over in 3 minutes. This year Susan Boyle teams up with Elvis Presley on O Come All Ye, Faithful. The recording sessions must have been a blast. I actually feel bad for the King. It’s pretty hard to object to having your legacy besmirched when you’ve been dead for 36 years. Please don’t buy this single. It will only encourage them.

My pick of the litter is the debut single from Abigail Breslin, the former child star of Little Miss Sunshine. Still an actress and now a budding musician, 17 year old Breslin has a sweet voice and Christmas In New York is a pretty song. I’m not completely certain that a Christmas single is a good way to kickstart a music career, but hey, who needs credibility in the music business at this time of the year?

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Published in: on January 7, 2014 at 16:37  Leave a Comment  
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Box Set Bonanza 2012

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 2nd October 2012.

Every October, dark forces return to unleash unspeakable horrors upon our supermarket and department store shelves. No, I’m not talking about Halloween. I mean the Christmas merchandise that’s already started to appear in our stores. So if it’s good enough for a multinational corporation, it’s good enough for me. In preparation for the silly season, here are my picks for the best box sets to buy for your favourite movie fanatic (or Tuesday columnist).

If too much Bond is never enough, grab Bond 50 – The James Bond Collection which celebrates half a century of Bond adventures with 22 films on 22 discs. If you buy the blu-ray set, there’s also an extra disc full of exclusive new content. Unfortunately, the non-canon Never Say Never Again from 1983 is not included, which is a shame because I’d gladly exchange it for the invisible car and wooden Madonna performance from Die Another Day. With the latest Band mission, Skyfall, hitting cinemas in November, a space has been generously left in the box for you to complete your collection next year. You can then rest easy knowing you own every single minute of Bond goodness, until the next movie is announced and you’ll have to buy a new box set. Start saving your money, Penny.

Speaking of great franchises, Indiana Jones has finally taken the leap to high definition. Indiana Jones – The Complete Adventures features all three original films on beautiful blu-ray, plus an extra disc chock full of bonus stuff. The films have been remastered under the supervision of Steven Spielberg, with Raiders of the Lost Ark receiving a complete restoration from the original print and sound mix. The set also includes a special Indiana Jones coaster. You can protect your tabletops knowing that The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has finally found a useful purpose.

The Universal Monsters Collection on blu-ray celebrates the 100th anniversary of Universal Studios by unleashing some of its iconic creature features in high definition. Featuring a 48 page book and 8 discs, I can’t wait to get my hands on this one and experience horror classics Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, Bride of Frankenstein, The Wolf Man and Phantom of the Opera for the first time. Best of all, The Creature from the Black Lagoon will make his (or is it her, or its) debut in blu-ray 3D.

Finally, the master of suspense has been given a high definition makeover to bring you Alfred Hitchcock – The Masterpiece Collection. The box set features 14 Hitchcock  classics including Rear Window, Frenzy, Psycho and Vertigo, plus every ornithophobe’s favourite, The Birds.  There is also 15 hours of bonus content for your enjoyment. Strangely, my favourite Hitchcock flick, North by Northwest, is not featured. Neither is Gus Van Sant’s disastrous 1998 shot for shot remake of Psycho, which is good thing.

One last thing, all of these box sets are labelled as limited editions. This is a rather meaningless marketing term nowadays so don’t rush out and buy them all just in case. With all of the above around or above the $100 mark, the limiting factor may well be your wallet.

My Christmas Shopping Survival Guide

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 20th December 2011.

I’ve had some very reliable information that Christmas is coming soon. Apparently, tradition dictates that you purchase gifts for everyone you know. To avoid meltdown, follow my thirteen simple instructions to survive the silly season.

  1. There’s nothing wrong with gift vouchers. If you have concerns that the recipient will know how much you spent on them, leave the price tags on all your other gifts so no-one feels left out.
  2. Your family and friends will love receiving gift vouchers for specialty stores in towns hundreds of kilometres away. Not only do they get to choose their own present, they get to have a holiday too.
  3. Avoid the temptation of singing along with the in-store music in department stores. They’ve done their research and found that it causes excessive spending on lab rats. Take your own music. I recommend a little Lou Reed to keep your Christmas generosity away.
  4. Don’t agonise on choosing presents that perfectly match the likes and interests of the recipient. Just buy them anything. That’s what your loved ones have done for you. How else do you explain the Jack Vidgen and Susan Boyle CDs you’ll get this year?
  5. A great choice for a present is a mobile phone. Nothing says I love you like a monthly financial burden for the next two years.
  6. Got a geek in your life? Pick up the Star Wars blu-ray collection for them. The high definition transfer is so detailed that the once magical alien worlds, characters and spaceships are reduced to what they really were: cheap sets, costumes and plastic models. You’ll spoil Star Wars for them and they’ll be a more interesting person for it afterwards.
  7. Don’t get upset that the shop clerk is slowly talking you through using the EFTPOS machine, even though you’ve already used one twenty times today already. With the stress of Christmas, you probably look a little tired, plus you’ve just tried to pay for your shopping with your Medicare card.
  8. Concerned about whether your friends and family might not share the winnings from the Scratchies you bought them? Try scratching them before you pop them in the card to avoid any potential conflicts.
  9. Do you have to buy a $10 Kris Kringle gift for someone at work you barely know? Postage stamps are a practical present that they probably won’t love but they definitely will use.

10. Trust me. No-one wants a digital photo frame for Christmas. They are this year’s equivalent of underwear and socks.

11. Buy your loved one two tickets to a concert that you really want to see and they are so-so about. You are almost guaranteed that they will take you, plus they’ll probably drive you too.

12. Glee is so last year. By purchasing one of their two hundred soundtrack CDs, you are supporting them to destroy popular music, one song at a time.

13. A pet is for life, not just for Christmas. Don’t buy anyone an animal, unless it is honey glazed or slow roasted.

On behalf of me, myself and Irene, have a satisfactory Christmas and eat cherries until you puke. I’ll be back next week with the best films and TV of the year.

Published in: on December 20, 2011 at 09:07  Leave a Comment  
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I hate Christmas shopping

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 30th November 2010.

It’s a big shame that Christmas falls at such a busy time of the year. Moving it to a quieter month would give me much more time to do my shopping.

I was in a fancy candle shop this past weekend, purchasing a Christmas tree shaped candle. Don’t ask me why. I suppose I’ll be able to experience the spirit of Christmas next time there’s a blackout. Anyhow, the shop assistant approaches me and asks if she can help. I ask her if she’ll do my Christmas shopping. She looks unimpressed, although not nearly as unimpressed as when she took my EFTPOS card and asks what account I would like it on, and I replied, “Yours.”

It was during this shopping trip I realised that with so little time left until the big day and with so many presents to buy, plus the fact that I hate present shopping, I should come up with a plan to purchase as many gifts as possible in one transaction.

I didn’t last much longer in the candle shop. Giving someone you love a Christmas themed candle on December 25 is pretty much a gift for the year after, much like giving someone a Christmas album. You also need to consider that no matter how beautiful a fancy candle may be, once it has be used, it will look exactly the same as every ordinary candle. Coincidentally, I’ve been told that after too much beer and turkey at Christmas time, and no exercise, my body resembles a melted candle, but that’s a different story.

Why not give everyone a calendar? They’re practical and unlike Bieber fever, will last a whole year. The problem is too much choice. There seems to be more calendar themes than there are people to buy them. Is there really a market for that,” Black Cats Looking Rather Startled and Slightly to the Left of the Camera” calendar? And I object to paying full price for something that will be heavily discounted eight days later, on January 2.

Gift vouchers can be awkward. Not only does the recipient know how much, or how little, you have spent on them, but it also indicates a lack of trust. “Here, instead of giving you money to buy whatever you want wherever you want, I’m going to force you to buy something in the store of my choosing, and you only have six months to do it or you miss out. Merry Christmas.”

Those charity cards are a great idea, but not necessarily a great gift to receive. Basically, you give somebody a card that says that you have bought a goat for someone in Africa. They’re a worthy concept, but a complete non-event in terms of Christmas excitement. I tried them on my family a few years ago and they were not impressed. I’m pretty sure the only way they could have been more unimpressed was if I actually bought them a goat each.

With Christmas ever looming, I decided that my only course of action was to bite the bullet and set myself a challenge. I went on one shopping trip to one store with two hours to buy all of my presents. I picked one of those big chain bookstores that also stocks movies, music and giftware. Two hours, one transaction and five shopping bags later, I was out the door and Christmas shopping 2010 was done.

So this Christmas time, why not save time and effort by purchasing all of your gifts at the one time with as little thought as possible? That way, you can spend your time enjoying the finer things in life, like relaxing by the pool, watching the cricket and laughing at people who still haven’t started their Christmas shopping.

Published in: on December 19, 2010 at 20:15  Leave a Comment  
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The Joys of Christmas

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 7th December 2010.

Don’t you just love December? Who doesn’t look forward to the warm dry summer weather, cicadas buzzing from every tree, cherries for sale on street corners and Australia dominating at the cricket? OK, so only the cicadas have eventuated this year so far but December also brings with it several other seasonal traditions, all of which I could definitely live without, namely bad television, Christmas music and movies.

Last year I wrote about some of the worst Christmas albums ever. They truly are a money grabbing exercise from our friends at the multinational record companies. What is the point of an album that is only useful for a few weeks a year? You know that it is all about the money when Kate Cerebrano releases a Christmas album. I didn’t realise that Scientologists celebrated Christmas. Maybe Xenu and Jesus have the same birthday.

There’s nothing that inspires me more when I’m doing my compulsory Christmas present shopping than some upbeat festive tunes piped into the shops. That is, inspires me to rip all of my hair out and stick hatpins into my ears. There are Christmas decorations everywhere. Santa hats and stupid t-shirts abound to reinforce the fact that it is Christmas. I do not need Mariah Carey screeching her way through All I Want for Christmas Is You to remind me that it is December.

How do retail staff stay sane with Christmas tunes on constant rotation all day? Surely this breaches occupational health and safety regulations? It must be even worst with those elf ears on. Imagine hearing Paul McCartney’s Wonderful Christmastime all day through gigantic super sensitive ears. I’d certainly frequent a shopping centre that uses the marketing ploy of “We know it’s Christmas, so do you, let’s not speak of it again, carry on as usual.”

December is also the time when the TV ratings people take some time off, leaving us to watch repeats, “summer editions” and all those shows that were axed after a couple of episodes in the US. Thank goodness for pay TV. How else would I get my fix of umpteen episodes of The Simpsons each day? Actually, the festive break is a good time to break out the DVD box sets and catch up on all of those shows I didn’t have time to watch during the year.

It is such a shame that the Cops LAC box set has been indefinitely postponed, due to lack of interest. I was really looking forward to reliving Kate Ritchie trying to be a hardnosed cop. Actually, I was looking forward to reliving Kate Ritchie trying to act. Poor Kate, even the Brady Bunch Variety Hour got a DVD release!

Christmas movies are another December inevitability. Personally, I like to watch movies to escape from reality. When I’m panicking about shopping, cooking and seeing my family, the last thing I want to do is see a Christmas movie about people panicking about shopping, cooking and seeing their families.

I’ve made a list and checked it twice. These Christmas movies are terrible.

1. Jingle All The Way (1996): Arnie struggles to find a Turboman doll for his son, and with the English language.

2. The Santa Clause 1, 2 and 3 (1994 – 2006): A trilogy? The Lord of the Rings and old school Star Wars deserve to be called trilogies. This should be known as a “we-accidentally-made-three-of-them-ogy.”

3. Christmas with the Kranks (2004): What is it about Tim Allen and bad Christmas movies? Unbelievably, this was written by John Grisham. Yes, that John Grisham.

So this December, bring on the warm weather. Actually, forget the heat. I just want it to stop raining. You’ll find me away from the shopping centre and television, enjoying the sun with my friends, being deafened by cicadas and eating cherries until I puke. I love Christmas.

Published in: on December 19, 2010 at 20:12  Leave a Comment  
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My Holiday Plans

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 22nd December 2009.

Every year I look forward to the break between Christmas and New Year. I always have ambitious plans for my holidays but inevitably spend it eating way too much and falling asleep on the couch. In the off chance that I somehow manage to be constructive with my time, I’m making a list and I’m checking it twice.

  1. See Avatar at the new cinema: I’ve heard nothing but great reviews for James Cameron’s new film. In a recent Sunday newspaper, the reviewer named it the best movie ever. I’m sure it will be great, but that’s ridiculous, Mariah Carey’s Glitter is the best movie ever. Orange certainly deserves a quality cinema, and considering that we’ve been putting up with poor sound quality and out of focus movies for the past year or so, let’s hope the Odeon is here for good.
  2. Actually finish a book: I love book stores. I love buying books. Do I ever finish the books I buy? Rarely. I’ve had a thing recently for books about cats so the contenders for being read from beginning to end are Under The Paw by Tom Cox, Dewey by Vicki Myron and My Life Outside The Ring by Hulk Hogan.
  3. Play Super Mario Bros Wii: I have a similar weakness (that’s pronounced addiction) for video games. The latest Super Mario Bros game is fantastically fun and made me a little nostalgic for the eighties. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed playing the original Mario Bros on the NES console. Unfortunately, I had also forgotten how terrible I was at playing it.
  4. Determine my Top Ten Films: Have you ever been asked what your favourite films are, but can never come up with a definitive answer? Flick Chart is my latest internet obsession. It is a website that allows you to come up with a list of your favourite movies. Two movie posters are presented to you at a time. If you have seen both films, simply click on the one you thought was better. As you click away, your list begins to take shape and your favourite movies rise to the top. Beware though, once you go to www.flickchart.com, you will stay there for hours and hours. Great fun, and a brilliant time waster.
  5. Organise my diary: Every December I dutifully peruse and then select a diary. I fill in my details at the front and write in my appointments for January, and then ignore it for the rest of the year. I even bought a Filofax this year. At least this year coming, I can pencil in “write column for the CWD” every Monday.
  6. Watch everything on my hard drive recorder: The best thing about HDD recorders is that you never need video tapes or blank DVDs. Just press a button and it’s recorded. The worst thing is that it is too easy to record way more than you can ever watch. If I put 48 hours or so aside I should get it done. I might finally get around to seeing that Hey Hey reunion. I heard there was a fantastic Michael Jackson tribute act that came back to perform on Red Faces.

Happy holidays everyone.

Published in: on December 22, 2009 at 06:37  Leave a Comment  
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Bah humbug! Your Christmas Album sucks.

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 15th December 2009.

It must be Christmas. In the record shops, a plethora of greatest hits albums now adorn the shelves. Within this week’s top 50 albums, eight are greatest hits compilations. And there are plenty more now available, just in time for Christmas, many of them from artists who are no longer commercially or creatively active, such as Enya, Seal and Fleetwood Mac.

However, it is not just the ever expanding array of Greatest Hits albums that indicate the imminent arrival of Santa. There is a much more insidious threat to your wallet in the record stores each December. Beware of the Christmas album.

Usually recorded to fulfil a contractual obligation, or cash in on fleeting fame, by definition, the Christmas album is only useful for one month a year or so.

With money too tight to mention, here are some Christmas atrocities to avoid.

In 1989, Neighbours was the biggest show on television, both here and in the UK. With Kylie Minogue riding high in the charts with The Loco-Motion the year before, the cast of Neighbours at the time warbling their way through a few carols was going to be a sure-fire hit, right? Wrong. Christmas With Your Neighbours features Anne Charleston (Madge), Ian Smith (Harold), Alan Dale (Jim) and others massacring all your Christmas favourites. It will make you wish for a Silent Night.

Tiny Tim is best known for his ukulele playing and high falsetto which he used to great effect in his 1968 hit Tiptoe Through the Tulips. In 1993, he recorded Tiny Tim’s Christmas Album in Sydney. Backed up by a terrible heavy rock band, Tim rushes through an hour of Christmas standards in 30 minutes with his trademark looney tunes approach. Now a collector’s item, this cd is particularly hard to find on the second hand market, probably because no-one bought it at the time.

Cashing in by following your first (and perhaps only) hit album with a collection of Christmas songs must be one of the golden rules for boy bands  as this is exactly what ‘N Sync, New Kids on the Block and Hanson did. Merry, Merry Christmas by New Kids features the rather tedious original song This One’s for the Children which was obviously referring to their fans. Hanson’s Snowed In bubbles with youthful effervescence. Unfortunately, with this high energy comes very high pitched vocals which mean the album could easily be mistaken for a Christmas record by Alvin and the Chipmunks. And for the record, there have been 8 Chipmunks Christmas albums.

Happy Holidays by Billy Idol was released in 2006. With a stripped back sound, Idol croons his way through such fare as Frosty the Snowman, Silver Bells and, of course, Jingle Bell Rock. Sporting a cheesy grin and a suit and tie on the cover, Billy sets out to confuse his fans, who I’m sure would prefer he wear leather, growl the songs and then punch Santa in the nose.

Other notable Christmas albums to avoid include such dubious fare as A Romantic Christmas by John Tesh (of Entertainment Tonight fame), Christmas by Jim Nabors (of Gomer Pyle fame), These Are Special Times by Celine Dion, This Is The Time by Michael Bolton (of big mullet fame) and Mr Hankey’s Christmas Classics which features carols sung by an animated poo from TV’s South Park.

If you must buy a Christmas CD, may I suggest you purchase the annual Myer Spirit of Christmas album which raises funds for The Salvation Army or Phil Spector’s A Christmas Gift For You which features his famous Wall of Sound and is considered the greatest Yuletide album ever.

Published in: on December 15, 2009 at 08:01  Comments (2)  
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