Glee, a heartfelt dramedy that has become a worldwide pop culture phenomenon in two short years, saw a heavy resurgence in storyline-driven plot –with a dash of music–in its third season, which kicked off with “The Purple Piano Project.” With Glee: The Music, The Christmas Album Volume 1 under their belt, the Glee cast was ready and willing to spread some (more) sugary Christmas cheer. This time last year, Gleeks around the globe were celebrating the snow-filled holidays with the first Glee-fully dreary album set, which tackled a range of Christmas classics, including “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” and “O Holy Night.”
This year, the cast continues to recreate some of our favorite tracks (“All I Want for Christmas is You”) and even pepper in some originals (“Extraordinary Merry Christmas”) that culminates in a necessary purchase for even the casual Glee fan. Several tracks from the album were featured on the December 13, 2011 holiday-themed episode titled “Extraordinary Merry Christmas,” namely the title track. On “All I Want for Christmas,” Amber Riley, who plays the resident diva at McKinley High, Mercedes Jones, gets to exercise her impressive vocal chops on this Mariah Carey standard. While keeping true to the original, Riley manages to twist this song and make it fresh enough for a new generation, as most Gleeks were probably not even born when it was first released (way back in 1994).
On “Extraordinary Merry Christmas,” Darren Criss and Lea Michele lend their smooth voices and contagious charisma on a heavily synthesized and bouncing Christmas jingle. As evidenced in a many previous recordings, Michele and Criss have a hot AC-ready sound to their vocals that have helped Glee achieve remarkable Billboard chart success. This special moment on the December 13 episode highlights the fact that these two divas are the real stars of the show. With lyrics that are as warm and buttery as freshly brewed egg nog, this song will cheer up even the most downer of Debbies.
Michele and Criss are not the only New Directions’ members that get the spotlight on this jolly set. A wonderful surprise is Naya Rivera, who portrays the always in-your-face Santana Lopez, when she uses her Amy Winehouse-like vocals to magically conjure up a delightful ”Santa Baby.” A track that has been covered countless times before, almost to the point of no return, is reinvisioned by Rivera’s clever and wowing rendition. McKinley’s teachers even get in on the caroling as Will Shuester and Emma Pillsbury duet on ”Christmas Eve with You.” Despite the rocky journey their relationship has taken over the course of two and a half seasons, this sweet mid-tempo track embodies where they are now, which is all that matters. Kevin McHale, aka Artie, impresses on “Little Drummer Boy,” a yes-you-can story which is incredibly fitting and moving for the wheelchair-bound singer.
Michele is then again highlighted on “River,” a tale about wanting more out of life and relating that to the holiday season. While a sad story, her sweet and tender vocals are fascinating to behold and balloon this track into a surreal four minutes. Other sparkling performances on Christmas include the jazzy “Let It Snow,” featuring Criss and Chris Colfer, and Heather Morris’ electrifying “Christmas Wrapping.” While this Colfer and Criss duet is not as impressive as their duet from last season (“Baby, It’s Cold Outside”), both singers supply enough passion and scatting to make the track enjoyable. Morris’ “Wrapping” is as one would expect from the “My Cup” crooner and then some.
New cast member Damian McGinty, one of the winners from the first season of The Glee Project, dedicates his “Blue Christmas” to his family and The King. As his first holiday season away from his native Ireland, he is just a little blue from missing his friends and family. His vocals are restrained but free at the same time. As the music sweeps at the end, his voice becomes angelic and soars. There just might be a leading male spot on New Directions opening up just for him very soon.
The closing track, “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” perhaps the best of the bunch, is a socially conscious tune performed by the entire cast. Poignant, heartfelt, and delivered at the right moment during “Extraordinary Merry Christmas,” this track is the must listen song of the entire album. Anyone with a heart of coal will be ripped apart by this performance.
With all the expected Glee-ful formulas in place with several unexpected surprises, the cast’s second adventure into Christmas cheer and happiness is a slam dunk. Needless to say, any Gleek or casual music fan should dig deep in their wallets for this gem of an album.
Rating: 4 out of 5