Kylie Minogue and Christmas go together like salt and pepper so it’s a big surprise that last year was the Australian singer’s first major foray into the seasonal music market. Appropriately named ‘Kylie Christmas’, the album was a top 20 hit in the UK and featured an array of original songs and Christmas classics. Now, just over a year since the album was first released, Minogue is back with the repackaged ‘Snow Queen Edition’ boasting an additional 6 songs, including one brand new original track.
The reception to the first release of the album was extremely mixed with many critics slating the covers because they failed to bring anything new to the genre. Although they were largely complimentary towards the album’s original material, the greater proportion of Christmas classics meant that ‘Kylie Christmas’ only received a score of 55 on review compilation site Metacritic. With the addition of 5 more cover songs on the ‘Snow Queen Edition’, how will the repackaged album fare this time around? Let’s look at the album as a whole…
Although the tracklisting has been rearranged for the new version, the album still opens up with Minogue’s big-band cover of ‘It’s The Most Wonderful Time of The Year’. With it’s triumphant opening the song is the perfect way to kick of ‘Kylie Christmas’, especially as the epic instrumentation smoothly transitions to the singer’s soothingly-sweet vocals. Minogue’s voice glides through the track with festive optimism, setting up one of the most extravagantly upbeat atmospheres a Christmas album has ever seen.
The big band numbers continue over the next two tracks – covers of ‘Santa Claus is Coming To Town’ and ‘Winter Wonderland’, the former featuring vocals from the late, great Frank Sinatra. Although perhaps not the strangest collaboration on the album, Minogue’s track with Sinatra has, understandably, the least chemistry of them all. Whilst the track is perfectly pleasant, the vocals do not blend together brilliantly, likely because of the vast differences between the two singers’ musical style, and the fact that Sinatra’s inclusion was pre-recorded. The track that follows, however, is a lot more enjoyable to listen to. Minogue’s breathy vocals move sensually over the jazzy orchestra, adding a dash of playfulness to the Christmas classic, if little else.
The cover tracks continue throughout the album with many of them not unfamiliar on dozens of other festive releases. Minogue’s versions of ‘Let It Snow’ and ‘Santa Baby’ from her 2010 EP ‘A Kylie Christmas’ are both included, the latter a slinky little number dripping with PG sex appeal. Also featured is a cover of ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’, a track that fails to add anything that previous renditions hadn’t already, although it doesn’t need to. The slow, emotive song is one of the most beautiful on ‘Kylie Christmas’ and is a perfect addition to the album exactly as it is.
Some of the less-covered tracks featured on the album are Connie Francis’ ‘I’m Gonna Be Warm This Winter’ and The Pretenders’ ‘2000 Miles’. Whilst the former does not quite match the upbeat extravagance of Gabriella Cilmi’s well-known cover of the track, Minogue’s version is still an enjoyable ride of orchestral wonder. The wonderful bursts of personality that the singer infuses in the song make it a festive joy, even know it’s one of the more overly-produced songs on the album. The latter track ‘2000 miles’ is easily a cut above the rest when it comes to cover songs, with her haunting rendition of The Pretenders classic stunningly raw and exposed. Minogue’s vocals crack with emotive power as she bears her soul on one of the greatest Christmas covers to have ever been recorded.
‘Kylie Christmas’ is one of the singer’s biggest collaborative efforts to date with a total of 5 duets on the repackaged album, the majority of which are covers of well-known festive tracks. One that is not a Christmas song is Minogue’s collaboration with James Corden – ‘Only You’. Although initially intended as a novelty song, the track was included on the release after it turned out better than expected. The pair’s vocals work well together on the emotive ballad as they sing atop a beautiful assortment of instruments. Despite not being a Christmas song, Minogue and Corden transform the track into something appropriately festive that leaves a lasting impression long after the album has finished playing.
One of the most standout of the ‘Kylie Christmas’ covers is the collaboration with Iggy Pop. Being an artist that one might not associate with someone like Minogue, the partnership is certainly an odd one as the two team up on The Waitresses’ classic ‘Christmas Wrapping’. The original track itself was a funky number and Minogue remains faithful to its groovy production, albeit lacking the same amount of sass that The Waitresses brought to the song. Iggy Pop’s contributions come in bursts and don’t always flow well with the track’s airy production, but it adds a layer to the narrative that was missing in the original.
When it comes to collaborations, there is none greater on ‘Kylie Christmas’ than ‘100 Degrees’, an original song that sees the Minogue sisters team up together. Admittedly it’s the least Christmassy of all the tracks on the album, hence why a version with slightly altered lyrics was released earlier this year, but it’s quite possibly the strongest pop song that Minogue has recorded in years. The number starts off slow, pacing itself as it slowly builds up through the track. It’s almost impossible to distinguish the two singers from one another as their voices blend together beautifully on the exuberant chorus, their dance party out of control in the most brilliant way. ‘100 Degrees’ is a song that will undoubtedly have you up and dancing on your feet this holiday season.
From one great track to another, the highlight of the album is the Chris Martin penned single ‘Every Day’s Like Christmas’. With it’s gorgeous production and soothingly-sweet vocals, the song reaches epic heights as Minogue breathes life into one of the most beautiful festive love songs ever written. The track is as tear-jerking as it is heartwarming and is a suitable reminder of how wonderfully Mingoue can soar when she’s at her best. What’s more, the collaborative partnership of Stock Aitken Waterman remixed the song to create something conversely upbeat but equally as incredible. The remix is a true flashback to Minogue’s 80s glory as she grooves over a disco beat, the song the biggest of guilty pleasures and almost better for it. The singer has never been more in her element than when she’s being unapologetically fun.
Several of the other original tracks on the album are equally as impressive. ‘Oh Santa’ is almost a sequel to Minogue’s cover of ‘Santa Baby’ as she teasingly tells Santa what he could get here. The song is smooth and seductive, something that Minogue is perfect at conveying, and joyfully naughty, becoming almost cabaret-like as the number reaches its climax. The track ‘Christmas Isn’t Christmas Til You Get Here’ is backed by a much more frantic beat that builds up wonderfully towards the emphatic end. The song is a toe-tappingly good tune filled with plenty of festive instrumentation as Minogue longingly waits for the return of her lover at Christmas time.
Closing off the initial release of the album are the original songs ‘White December’ and ‘Cried Out Christmas’. The former suffers from an over-produced chorus that drowns out a great deal of Minogue’s vocals, though the verses of the song are sung with great personality and flair. Towards the climax of the track the production is even impressive as saxophones blare over the festive bells that adorn so much of this album. With ‘Cried Out Christmas’ Minogue becomes more sullen as she pleads for it not to be a Christmas spent alone. The song suffers from the same production issues as ‘White December’, a move which ultimately takes away some of the track’s lovely emotive quality. Much like the former previous number though, ‘Cried Out Christmas’ finds its feet in the end, allowing for a triumphant close to the song.
In terms of the tracks new to the ‘Snow Queen Edition’ of the album, is a relatively mixed bag. Minogue makes the mistake of covering some of the bigger festive tracks that ought not to be touched, most notably Paul McCartney’s Christmas tune ‘Wonderful Christmastime’. Despite the original song’s upbeat nature, this cover seems to just plod along with a lot less enthusiasm than is required. The inclusion of Mika adds very little to the track as the electronic production overthrows any real enjoyment that one might expect from the McCartney classic. Likewise, on the Wizzard mega-hit ‘I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday’, Minogue’s voice falls flat beneath the track’s excessive production. Although the music attempts to recreate the festive party atmosphere of the original, it tries too hard and ultimately leaves the song feeling over the top and void of Minogue’s bubbly personality.
The repackaged album is far from a disappointment, though. The remaining covers on the new edition aren’t necessarily the most well-known, but they’re by far the most enjoyable. On ‘Stay Another Day’, Minogue provides an incredibly emotive rendition of the East 17 track. Although the chorus doesn’t quite reach the dizzy heights that the production desperately wants it to, Minogue’s breathy vocals are almost fragile as they sweep through the verses of the track with great care. Similarily on the Coldplay track ‘Christmas Lights’, the singer shows just how beautifully her voice lends to a ballad when it’s more of a stripped back, graceful number. It’s her strongest vocal display on the ‘Snow Queen Edition’ as she rises and falls with the flow of the song, every line emotive in the most delicate manner. Both of these ballads outdo those included on last year’s edition of the album and prove that sometimes the best cover song is the one no-one expects to hear.
By a wide margin the highlight of the re-release is the only original track of the six new songs, ‘At Christmas’. The uptempo number is probably the biggest guilty pleasure of all of Minogue’s original songs on her Christmas album, but that’s what makes it so great. It’s bittersweet chorus is hard not to groove along to and sounds wonderfully fitting for a festive rom-com, whilst the verses power on with a great deal more life than some of the tracks can muster at all. ‘At Christmas’ is the perfect reminder for why Minogue is such a perfect fit for the genre and makes you wonder just how incredible the album could be if it were composed entirely of original music. A hope for the future, no?
The final song on the new release is also cover song, although this time Minogue takes a chance on another non-festive tune – Rozalla’s ‘Everybody’s Free (To Feel Good)’. The short-but-sweet track combines balladry with Minogue’s signature disco pop as the song builds up from an emotive vocal display to an all-out party. It’s a shame that the track isn’t longer because the upbeat moments almost feel too short-lived, but what is there is wonderfully produced and lovingly sung. It’s a perfect end to a repackaged album that succeeds and fails in more or less the same way as its predecessor.
As a whole ‘Kylie Christmas’ is a necessary addition to the genre, not least because her personality and style are more suited to the festive music scene than most of the artists who record their own seasonal albums. Although most of the cover songs are unoriginal and occasionally fall flat, they work wonderfully as a collection and do fill the listener with enough Christmas cheer to keep them unashamedly merry. There are enough original tracks on the album to make it unqiue and they more than make up for some of the worn-out classics featured on the lengthy LP.
At the end of the day you can’t expect ‘Kylie Christmas’ to be anything else than what it is – a camp, crazy, and unashamedly fabulous festive album.