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Chrismukkah Music Comes Up Short

For some reason this year has produced a bumper crop of Hanukkah-themed CDs. Why? And are any of them any good? We got young adult novelist Matthue Roth to investigate. Check back all week for more reviews. Under consideration today: … Read More

By / December 6, 2007

For some reason this year has produced a bumper crop of Hanukkah-themed CDs. Why? And are any of them any good? We got young adult novelist Matthue Roth to investigate. Check back all week for more reviews.

Under consideration today: Merry Chrismukkah: Music from The OC Mix 3 Chrismukkah—the holiday created by the TV show The OC to merge the paternal and maternal cultures of Seth Cohen, the titular protagonist—fueled a heap of cultural ire and fire when it was first broadcast. Unfortunately, none of that fire comes across on this tepid collection of nine indie-rock Christmas songs, most of them collected for the first time, and all but one straight-up Christmas themed music. Yes, I said indie-rock Christmas songs. The Ravonettes’ opening “The Christmas Song” is dreamy and evocative, post-drunken in the best half-asleep way imaginable. Their plucked guitar lines sound, if not striagh tout of a 1950s school dance, then at least straight from the 1950s school dance scene in Back to the Future. It’s less a Christmas song than a song about Christmas. The operative difference being, I think, threefold:

  1. Joyous/vomitable lyrical themes of trees/Santa/implied kissing under mistletoe
  2. A chorus that both explicitly mentions Christmas and gets caught in your head
  3. Percussion track featuring something meant to be sleigh bells

Take, for instance, the Eels’ “Christmas Is Going to the Dogs,” which is every bit as jaded and mean-spirited as you’d expect, but still has a sense of humor, a catchy and Christmas-themed chorus, and those damn sleigh bells. Ben Kweller makes his way thorugh a pretty and compelling acoustic guitar version of “Rock of Ages,” the sole Chanukah representative. (It is, by the way, a very straight-up rendition, very thoughtful and sweet and toned-down in that antifolk style that we've all come to know and love. And Ben Kweller is good at what he does, and we do like the earnest singing, which sounds almost as though he wrote the lyrics "Rock of ages, let our soul/praise your saving power" himself.) (I want to point out, though, that Rebbe Soul actually has a blow-away beautiful version of the song, on his album Change the World with a Sound, that’s all tables and ukuleles and it almost warrants a review of its own.) But, for the most part, this collection feels unnecessary and abridged. If the O.C. folks wanted more Chanuka tracks, they should have looked no further than my track Dreidel Maven. Never mind that the collection's only 28 minutes long. Where's the "ukkhah" part of Chrismukkah?

Sure, as an Orthodox Jew, I'm fundamentally offended by the concept, offended by every minute of the trite, stale, sitting-by-the-fireplace Americanness of it, and ESPECIALLY offended by that stupid freaking Santa Claus-lookin' yarmulke that they sell in upscale trendy boutiques whose popularity outlasted the show. Nevertheless, I'm open-minded. I’m a patron of the arts. Honestly, I would have completely bought into the idea of this soundtrack if there were any songs that tipped their hats to the concept of Chrismukkah. But, no—it's all straight Yuletide here. You know how, in Judaism, the religion passes through the mother, so if a mother's Jewish, the child will be? Well, Seth Cohen—the most Jewishy-sounding name ever—is the product of a Jewish father and a Christian mother, which, theologically speaking, makes his Jewish identity all hype with no depth. Which, would also be a succinct review for this collection. So, listen: if you're gonna commodify my holiday, can't you throw us a few more bones? Even South Park had the rockin' "Lonely Jew on Xmas." Unless Jimmy Eat World covering WHAM!'s "Last Christmas (I Gave You My Heart)" is your thing (hey, it's mine), you might want to just skip straight to A Very Barbra Christmas.

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