After Come On Feel The Illinoise, “Merry Xmas Everybody” as a 5CD box set!
As we know from his monumental 50 States project, Sufjan Stevens likes to approach things on a grand scale. So perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised when, in contrast to most singers, his Christmas album isn’t the usual token recitation of seasonal carols, but a mammoth 5CD box incorporating both traditional and original compositions.
The set compiles together the EPs which, emulating the fan-club gifts of such as The Beatles and REM, Stevens has recorded each Christmas since 2000 (excepting 2004, for some reason) as presents for family and friends. Several are brief piano miniatures, of traditional tunes like “Lo! How A Rose E’er Blooming” and a thumping, ingenuous “Jingle Bells”; or glockenspiel, glistening like sun on snow for “Angels We Have Heard On High”.
Then there are the more elaborately arranged versions of songs such as “Joy To The World!” and “Little Drummer Boy”, whose modest theme offers the perfect vehicle for Stevens’ diffident voice.
Most interesting, though, are Stevens’ own additions to the Christmas canon, like the light-hearted “Come On! Let’s Boogey To The Elf Dance!” (“K-Mart is closed/So is the bakery/Everyone’s home”) and the bathetic “That Was The Worst Christmas Ever!”, whose hushed harmonies and plunking banjo are highly reminiscent of parts of Illinoise. The tone is generally one of mild encouragement, of jollying-along the reluctant participants in this most fraught of celebrations, as indicated by titles like “Hey Guys! It’s Christmas Time!” and “It’s Christmas! Let’s Be Glad!”.
The tracks which offer a slightly askance look at the festive season are most entertaining, such as the semi-apologetic account of disharmony “Did I Make You Cry On Christmas Day? (Well, You Deserved It!)”, all banjo, sleigh-bells and strained falsetto harmonies, and the splendid “Get Behind Me, Santa!”, where cheesy horns and organ race up and down the scale like elves bustling industriously in the toy workshop.
Here, Stevens offers a less than generous assessment of Saint Nick’s profession: “You move so fast/ Like a psychopathic colour TV/ With your Christmas bag and your jolly face/ And the reindeer stomping all over the place”.