Songs for the season

Songs for the season
Singer Susan Boyle

SOUND BITES

QUALITY STREET: A SEASONAL SELECTION FOR ALL THE FAMILY

Nick Lowe

Yep Roc Records

** ½

Our Santa: The avuncular one with a twinkle in his eye. An icon in the British new wave and punk rock, Nick Lowe lends an alternative spin to the Christmas formula, giving it "a brand new suit of clothes".

How high is the holiday spirit?: High on dry English wit. Lowe apparently brands Christmas albums as "tawdry and vulgar commercialism", and is determined to create original Yuletide compositions which have bite.

And so he waxes lyrical about being stranded in between flights in the jangly Christmas At The Airport, and croons about being A Dollar Short Of Happy. His covers are pithy, too, doing a laidback take on Roger Miller's Old Toy Trains and a bluegrass version of folkie Rise Up Shepherd.

Play it: When you feel like a misanthrope on Christmas Eve.

WRAPPED IN RED

Kelly Clarkson

RCA/Sony Music

***

Our Santarina: The original American Idol belts out on her first Christmas album of no-brainer classics and new tracks, as if released from years of factory servitude.

How high is the holiday spirit?: Higher than Jungfraujoch in the Swiss Alps.

Kelly Clarkson sails on her range to achieve Mariah Carey-esque peaks. She turns a cosy chestnut like Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas into a powerhouse number, delivering the line "So hang a shining star upon the highest bough" as a sky-shattering missile. A Phil Spector-styled gloss is poured over the title track and Underneath The Tree, with Clarkson showing off that ridiculous mix of rarefied high register and blow-hard bluster. So confidently heartland is her approach, it doesn't matter if she's covering the wintry spiritual Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel or the jazzy Baby It's Cold Outside, it's the Clarkson brand fortified. She'll be clucking all the way to the bank.

Play it: At your next school reunion, as you size up one another and check out who's gone fat, bald, grey or ___________ (put your derisive adjective here).

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