Despite the fact she looks like my ex-girlfriend's mother, Susan Boyle has found success thanks to her powerful warble and Simon Cowell's marketing genius. Since breaking onto the global scene in 2009 with her infamous introduction on Britain's Got Talent, Boyle has survived beyond her prescribed fifteen minutes of fame by becoming the champion of underappreciated middle-aged women the world over.
With her background and target audience in mind, you'd think that her second album The Gift would be a hokey collection of holiday tunes you've heard thousands of times before, right? At the risk of sabotaging my musical credentials, the answer is no, not exactly. While The Gift isn't a masterwork by any stretch, it never careens off the cliff either, and it even hosts an unexpected gem of a track. For the first time in my life, I somewhat enjoyed listening to recorded Christmas carols. Somewhat.
Surprisingly, The Gift isn't bright, cheery and crammed with session musicians, but rather enveloped by an eerie gravitas accented with a moderate helping of cheese. Loaded primarily with distant choirs and her lonely voice, Boyle inadvertently crafted a Christmas album for the Eve of the Apocalypse, each track performed as if hope is all but lost in the closing moments of human history. When Susan Boyle comes on the speakers, shit gets real.
Regardless of their arrangements, The Gift is packed with holiday songs you're heard so many times you never need to hear them again, though I could have sworn that "Auld Lang Syne" contained more lyrics. Besides the standards of "O Holy Night" and "Do You Hear What I Hear?", the album contains a few eclectic covers, most obviously Lou Reed's "Perfect Day" with an extra pinch of operatic schmaltz for the housewives. Her version of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" is decent enough, but it took someone like Rufus Wainwright to fashion this vastly over-rated song into something beyond mediocrity. How such a boring tune has lasted for decades, I don't know.
The biggest surprise is her cover of "Don't Dream It's Over", the ‘80s hit from Crowded House. I shit you not when I say that Susan's rendition is pretty damn good, as she fashioned a massive pub sing-along into genuine lament. Coupled with her version of last year's "Wild Horses”, Susan has proven she can interpret another artist's work into something unique and worthwhile. Yes, I'm aware of what I just said, and no, my credibility isn't scarred.
As much as I wanted to ravage The Gift, her music does not earn the full brunt of my endless cruelty, as I take no joy in attacking those that don't deserve it. Of course she's the product of a terrible industry, but how else could she live off of her talent in her mid 40s? Unlike many celebrities, she wasn't born into riches or fame, so picking on her would literally mean I'm picking on an old lady that only wants to sing and spend more money than she earns. She's not a pompous rock star that recorded a 72-minute ejaculation of guitars and cocaine, nor is she half as embarrassing as Rod Stewart. By the way, someone needs to put ol' Rod out of his misery and ship him off to the glue factory.
Will you, a young, indie-minded music fan, enjoy Susan Boyle's new album? Probably not, but your mom is going to LOVE it.
1. Perfect Day
3. Do You Hear What I Hear (Duet with Amber Stassi)
4. Don't Dream It's Over
5. The First Noel
6. O Holy Night
7. Away In a Manager
8. Make Me a Channel of Your Peace
9. Auld Lang Syne
10. O Come All Ye Faithful