[11 December 2011]
Yes, Scott Weiland, late of Velvet Revolver and Stone Temple Pilots, has released a Christmas album. And as you can judge by the cover art, it’s meant to be (mostly) an ironic joke: ‘90s alternative rock superstar/infamous junkie/hard-living bad boy records album of Christmas standards with old-school easy-listening arrangements. There are no guitars, no Bowie/Vedder/Staley impressions, no rehashed ‘90s alternative clichés. It’s all strings, vibes, tinkly pianos, and soft, gentle crooning. Get it?
The real joke isn’t that this is a shocking departure—it’s that this is so sadly predictable. Really, who didn’t see this coming? For one thing, Weiland has spent most of his career shamelessly imitating Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, David Bowie and (more recently) Guns N’ Roses. Who’s left for him to impersonate but Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby? Moreover, back in the mid-‘90s, when Weiland’s band Stone Temple Pilots was busy topping the charts with music that transformed alternative rock into palatable stadium fare, the alternative crowd decided to withdraw into ironic resurrections of pre-Elvis singers like Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Tony Bennett. The “lounge-core” movement, as it was known, only lasted a few years but its influence is clearly evident here: once again, Scott Weiland has found yet another ‘90s alternative trend to pillage musically.
Is that excessively cynical? Just consider the music. “O Holy Night” has a dreadful reggae-lounge arrangement that could have come out of a Holiday Inn circa 1978. “What Child Is This?” is sung with jazzy drums and a flute solo. “White Christmas” has a string arrangement that’s identical to Bing Crosby’s original recording of the song. These musical moments, however, are not homages done out of affection for the style; they’re delivered with enough smirking hipster smugness to make Sonic Youth wilt. It’s the sort of album where you’ll really only listen to the first ten or so seconds of any given song because that’s how long it takes to convey the “joke”.
And what of Weiland’s singing? Well, no one has ever accused Weiland of being a bad singer; his ability to hit any note is once again proven here. It’s just that he has never come up with a singing style that isn’t predicated on replicating someone else, and that has always blunted even his most “heartfelt” lyrics. Here, though, he reaches his nadir—he’s sometimes sounded contrived or derivative, but he’s never sounded as utterly fake as he does on this album. The excessively nasal voice he uses for “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” is so unpleasant that it’s hard to imagine anyone listening to this rendition for pleasure; as an expression of homesickness and longing for family, it wouldn’t even make you want to call your family collect. His “swinging” voice on “Winter Wonderland” isn’t any less obnoxious, conveying not a shred of genuine fun or enthusiasm. Even when he displays an impressive vocal flourish, as he does on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, you won’t care one whit, because there’s no actual emotion here, just technical precision deployed for financial reward. Isn’t that, after all, the spirit of Christmas?
Then again, maybe that’s what he intended. Maybe there’s room in the crowded holiday music market place for yet another novelty album by a big-name alterna-rocker. After all, there are always people in the market for useless ironic joke gifts and the whole “Billy Bass” craze has cooled off considerably. Still, that doesn’t make The Most Wonderful Time of the Year any more listenable. Say what you will about Christmas albums by Beyonce and Christina Aguilera, but at least their occasionally cloying sentimentalism is far more endearing (and entertaining) than this type of smugness. Then again, so was Purple.