- The Washington Times - Monday, November 14, 2011

Glee: The Music, the Christmas Album Volume 2

Glee

Columbia

★★★

One day, some poor producer will be charged with the sisyphean task of putting together the “Glee” box set, funneling every single song performed on the show into one package. Until then, “Glee” will continue to strike while the iron’s hot, churning out soundtrack after soundtrack until all Broadway numbers and 1980s pop staples have been covered. “Glee: The Music, the Christmas Album Volume 2,” a timely release filled with 10 holiday favorites and a pair of hit-or-miss originals, is the latest addition to the catalog.

Maybe “holiday favorites” is too kind a description for songs like “Christmas Wrapping,” a new-wave relic from 1981 that gets resurrected here. It’s certainly the oddest song in the bunch, but it’s also the best, with an arrangement that recalls the Go-Gos and a strong performance by cast member Heather Morris, who treats the tune like the silly, borderline manic thing it really is. On an album filled with predictable versions of “Let It Snow” and “Little Drummer Boy,” it’s nice to hear a song that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

If only the rest of her cast mates got to enjoy themselves, too. The “Glee” cast is a vocal powerhouse, filled with Broadway vets and solid pop singers, but the show’s formula has grown as stale as last year’s Christmas cookies. Everyone sounds great; the problem rests in the music itself.

“Extraordinary Merry Christmas,” one of the album’s two original tracks, tries to co-opt every pop/rock lick from the past 10 years, starting with the guitar intro to Adam Lambert’s “Whataya Want From Me” and ending with a chorus straight out of a P!nk song. “Santa Baby” shines a spotlight on the show’s most underrated vocalist, Naya Rivera, but doesn’t allow her to do anything more than an Eartha Kitt impression, thanks to a straightforward arrangement that hews too closely to the original. Lea Michele’s note-for-note re-creation of Joni Mitchell’s “River” suffers the same fate; it’s gorgeously sung but unimaginatively presented, sounding more like holiday karaoke than the showstopper it wants to be.

Still, there are enough surprises hidden inside these 12 tracks to please truly dedicated Gleeks. All four finalists for “The Glee Project” make an appearance, with Damian McGinty sounding the most at ease in the recording studio. Scene stealers Darren Criss and Chris Colfer contribute a brassy “Let It Snow” that echoes their previous version of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”

“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” appeared on the first “Glee” Christmas release, and like most sequels, “The Christmas Album Volume 2” doesn’t quite measure up.

Bah humbug.

Take Care

Drake

Young Money Entertainment/Universal Republic

★★★

Drake doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who reads a lot of Sam Shepard, but that hasn’t stopped him from turning one of the playwright’s best-known expressions - “right in the middle of a contradiction, that’s the place to be” - into some of the decade’s most distinctive R&B.

He’s a sad sack with an ego as large as an airplane hangar. A narcissist who raps about his insecurities. A contemporary hit-maker whose songs draw heavily from ‘80s pop.

On “Take Care,” he turns those contradictions into a slow, syrupy tour de force. This is an R&B album at heart, but it’s more languid than you’d expect, filled with atmospheric keyboards and arrangements that vacillate between mellow and grandiose. Whenever the tempo picks up, it does so without ruining the cinematic sulkiness that fills every song like a movie score.

For all his rap-star bluster, Drake is a bruised romantic at heart. “We live in a generation of not being in love,” he sings during “Doing It Wrong.” Few MCs would dare deliver a line like that, but Drake makes it come across like a piece of tough-guy wisdom, as sad and flamboyant as the album itself.

Black Sabbath Enters Golden Years

Black Sabbath has reunited with frontman Ozzy Osbourne, who left the lineup in April 1979 to mount a solo career. During a press conference at the Whisky a Go Go Friday afternoon, the band announced plans to record a comeback album with Rick Rubin, launch a world tour and headline the 2012 Download Festival. Looks like the crazy train is still rolling.

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