Nigel Gould takes a look at the festive offerings
AMARANTINE, Special Christmas Edition
In the music world today few have the pedigree of the classically trained Celtic Queen of the New Age, Enya. But there is only so much a reviewer can take of the swooning orchestral pads, the gothic chants, the incomprehensible lyrics.
And latest album € an unnecessary Christmas update of last year's Amarantine € is just a step too far.
This new version features the album's original tracklisting with four new recordings of Christmas-themed songs added. Wow € value for money or what?
Anyway, it's more of the same whiny ghostly vocal chords with Adeste, Fideles (the original Latin version of O Come All Ye Faithful) and We Wish You A Merry Christmas for your displeasure.
With a voice as compelling as Sarah McLachlan's you really don't need any other instrument. The Canadian three-times Grammy winner specialises in making ordinary songs outstanding. Now, she's worked miracles on the Christmas classics. Wintersong is as threadbare an album as you'll hear.
Instrumentation outside the Canadian-born McLachlan's heart-melting vocal chords is virtually non-existent.
Even those repulsed by the very notion of a festive ditty, cannot fail to be impressed.
On latest record McLachlan unleashes the full force of her ferocious talent € breathing new life into O Little Town of Bethlehem, Silent Night and John Lennon's Happy Xmas (War Is Over).
Even Joni Mitchell's superb River gets a serious makeover.
Other seasonal treats include Christmas Time is Here with Diana Krall.
However, even the voice of an angel cannot do much for the dreadfully depressing Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas. McLachlan has shifted more than 26 million records to date. Unfortunately, there'll probably be no tickertape parade for Wintersong. At the very least, though, this beautiful record, deserves a higher accolade than 'just another Christmas record'.
DREAMS, THE ULTIMATE CORRS COLLECTION
It's five years since The Corrs last released a Best Of collection € so what's different this time around?
Well, 13 songs are included on new album Dreams, The Ultimate Corrs Collection that were not on the 2001 greatest hits package.
Now, if you're asking is it worthwhile parting with your hard-earned cash for another Corrs best of? The answer would have to be an emphatic 'no'.
Dedicated fans might be wooed by one or two of the new tracks including When The Stars Go Blue with Bono and I Know My Love with the Chieftains.
But a duet with Ronnie Wood on Ruby Tuesday is a definite no-no.
Elsewhere, you get remixes of Corrs classics including So Young and What Can I Do.
David Cassidy and the Partridge Family
COULD IT BE FOREVER, THE GREATEST HITS
There's no argument over the quality of the pop tunes but really do we need yet another David Cassidy/Partridge Family greatest hits € Christmas or not? Everything you ever wanted to know about the handsome heart-throb and his musical TV family is included on Could It Be Forever, The Greatest Hits. But if you already have a best of, you'll not be needing this. For the newcomers € I'm sure there are one or two out there € the collection features some of the biggest-selling pop tunes of all time including How Can I Be Sure; Daydreamer and the superb Breakin' Up Is Hard To Do.
And now for something completely different € Ben Folds and his Famous Five always pushed the barriers of acceptability with their piano-based not-of-this-world material.
Now Ben minus five has just released a 'best of' with a difference. This features songs from a series of internet-only EPs which began three years ago. It proves, if proof were needed, that Folds is not only a talented songwriter but an artist capable of stamping his own authority on already established songs. On Supersunnyspeedgraphic he takes The Cure's In Between Days and the Darkness's Get Your Hands Off My Woman and twists them into something fresh and exciting. Outside these two though, there are only fleeting moments of joy.
Normally a 'best of' doesn't constitute a classic, but this is an exception. From the rousing opener Backlash Blues right through to a live version of Gin House Blues, it feels deceptively like an 'organic' album, with its own integrity of mood and development. The emotionally draining big numbers - the unrivalled I Shall Be Released - give way to lighter moments, like I Want A Little Sugar. And just when you're tired pogo- jumping to It Be's That Way Sometimes, the tempo slows right down to hip-grindingly intimate for Do I Move You. Give yourself over to the high priestess of soul - you have never been in more capable hands.
CHAOS THEORY (On The Fiddle/Proper)
You could be forgiven for thinking that The Levellers had long ago split up - they stopped bothering the charts sometime in the mid-1990s - but the truth is they have been together and working steadily for almost 20 years with a remarkably stable line-up.
They exist almost entirely outside the regular music industry, without a manager or record deal, running themselves almost as a cottage industry and, as they say in the interviews which are part of an exhaustive package of extras, doing things their own way.
The meat in this two-disc set is a complete live show recorded in Reading earlier this year. It is an energetic, crowd-pleasing, rabble-rousing affair, which showcases their punk-folk hybrid to good effect, while also demonstrating the lack of songwriting smarts that has stopped them from ever being more than a healthy minority interest - none of the 23 songs lingers in the memory much beyond the final chord.
If the quality is maybe lacking, then they more than compensate with quantity. The extras run to well over two hours, and include an acoustic set (with a guest appearance from folk veteran Maddy Prior), covers of three Clash songs from last year's Beautiful Days festival with Billy Bragg guesting, band and fan interviews, and a 30-minute on-the- road documentary from 1993.
Teenage Kicks: We ask local music heads to tell us about the one song that really blew their fuse way back when......
When I was 18 I read a review of The Sacrilicious Sounds Of The Supersuckers. It wasn't a particularly glowing review, but for some reason it stuck with me. December 1995 came around and making my list for Santa, I figured I'd stick that Supersuckers CD down because even if it was crap, it was St Nick's money I was wasting, not mine. On the big day there it was under the tree. I played it right away and was blown away! It was an unadulterated rock n roll record. Until that point I avoided heavy rock due to its 1980s legacy of bad haircuts, tight jeans and really bad songs. But this CD had me hooked, it rocked, it rolled, it swore - and it drunk beer!
Weeks later I twigged what had gripped me so. On the track My Victim the ending salvo was "Don't look for answers for your disasters". That was the insight I had been searching for! The songs I had been listening to were full of people complaining about the world and relationships but not these guys. They were saying: 'Sure your life might suck, the world is screwed and yeah, your boss is a tool but guess what, get over it, accept it, because it ain't gonna change anytime soon. You might as well go enjoy life as best you can'.