Bright Eyes - A Christmas Album (reissue)
Record Label: Saddle Creek Records
Release Date: November 5, 2013
The festive season has reared its head again and it’s time for us to be merry and joyful and give goodwill to people for no other reason than ‘we’re supposed to’. It’s the time when children get excited about a man who doesn’t exist because he breaks into their house in the middle of the night and leaves them packages. It’s the time when adults get drunk and try to forget the perpetual loneliness in their souls which has been accentuated by constant advertisements aimed at people who are surrounded by people they love. However, the second group of people can now be that little bit happier in their sadness. Bright Eyes has a Christmas album for you.
It's been just over a decade since the initial release of Bright Eyes' A Christmas Album and, finally, eleven of the most depressing tracks in the history of Christmas music are getting the full release treatment. Originally created to raise money for a Nebraskan AIDS charity back in the good old days of 2002, A Christmas Album sees Conor Oberst doing battle with everyone’s favourite Christmas songs in the way he knows best; by depressing the hell out of everyone. Released back when Oberst was just establishing his place as the next Neil Young, but still had those self-indulgent, angsty hang ups that come with being a young man with an acoustic guitar; A Christmas Album captures the essence of any early Bright Eyes album whilst putting a new twist on festive favourites.
Despite the fact that the vast majority of Christmas albums should be burnt with fire, A Christmas Album is actually quite enjoyable. Sounding a little like a Bright Eyes b-sides collection, the record takes from various aspects of the band’s sound and applies them to the old songs we all know. The results are always surprising, if not quite always successful. Largely, the release brings to mind an overly angsty young man locked away from the world, bashing out Christmas songs fueled by whiskey and loneliness. Songs like the delicately whispered “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” and the droney brokenness of “Silent Night” stick out as tracks to remember due to the whole theatrical sadness that they’re shrouded in. It’s easy to forget that Oberst is selling us Christmas songs when they sound this depressing.
Elsewhere, Bright Eyes opt for a more traditional approach. “Silver Bells” is a sweet reappropriation of the original, with little change from what we’re used to. Of course, it does sit between the two aforementioned tracks so possibly its placement is rescue the mental health of the listeners. “Blue Christmas” is a highlight of the release, powered by country blues swagger and the sprawling American sound which defined Lifted. “White Christmas”’ guest vocals from the lovely Maria Taylor and its intimate, soft acoustic guitar make for an orthodox but enjoyable cover. The only real misstep on the record is the glitchy “Little Drummer Boy”. Channeling the electronics of the, at that time, yet to come Digital Ash In A Digital Urn, the track feels at odds with the sleepy intimacy of the rest of the record and had its similarities with someone pouring a glass of cold water over your head when you’re having a cozy snooze.
Overall, Bright Eyes’ A Christmas Album is little like any other Christmas album you’re likely to hear. Whilst not on a par with Bright Eyes’ original works, it holds the interesting accolade of being an actual enjoyable Christmas album. So, if you plan on having a lonely, miserable Christmas - here’s Conor Oberst’s present to you.