Tony Hadley – The Christmas Album (Omnivore Recordings / Universal Music Group) review
The voice of Spandau Ballet turns in a holiday album that sparkles with the wonder of the season
Spandau Ballet were a much bigger deal in their native England, but they did manage one monster Eighties’ smash in the US with “True” in 1983. Tony Hadley, the band’s vocalist, has just released his first seasonal offering titled The Christmas Album, and it’s a surprisingly solid listen. What elevates things is his uncanny choices, which keep things interesting.
The album opens with “Shake Up Christmas,” a song originally performed by Train, but here, Hadley actually improves on their version by imparting a sincerity that’s missing in the original. Hadley keeps the gentle funk but honestly, he’s got a better voice than Pat Monahan, so it’s overall a success. He adds a Celtic feel to Greg Lake’s “I Believe in Father Christmas,” and invites fellow Eighties’ star Kim Wilde for a smooth rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Wilde’s sultry delivery suggest that perhaps she should do a Christmas album too?
Not sure I’ve ever heard someone do a cover of Springsteen’s version of “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town,” but Hadley pulls it off, even adding a sax solo. With “Fairytale of New York,” originally done by the Pogues and Kirsty McCall, he removes some of the desperation of the original, with help from Italian pop sensation Nini Zilli. Then, Hadley digs deep into the holiday vaults for tracks like “Lonely This Christmas,” originally done in 1974 by the English glam band Mud, and “Driving Home This Christmas,” a Chris Rea song that captures the anticipation of traveling long distances to see loved ones.
Hadley acknowledges in his liner notes that the holiday season isn’t always a joyous time for everyone – and by including songs like “I Don’t Want to Spend Another Christmas Without You,” and the aforementioned “Lonely This Christmas,” he captures some of the pain and sadness that also accompanies the holidays.
If there’s one minor quibble, it’s that the disc runs a little too long. 18 tracks is a lot to take in, and there’s so many great performances here, there’s really no need for too-obvious choices like “Jingle Bells.”
A modern Christmas album from a legendary voice. –Tony Peters