CD Review of A Swingin’ Christmas by Michael Bolton
Recommended if you like
Lawrence Welk, Pat Boone, Muzak
Label
Concord
Michael Bolton:
A Swingin’ Christmas

Reviewed by Jeff Giles

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H
is admittedly powerful voice notwithstanding, the erstwhile Michael Bolotin has always had two things going for – and against – his singing career, namely: his craven, desperate opportunism, and an endless supply of chutzpah.

Both have been evident throughout his career, although early on, the former was more noticeable than the latter; a trip through Bolton’s early catalog is an often unintentionally hilarious object lesson in how to successfully substitute shameless commercial pandering for true artistic identity. As Michael Bolotin, he was a purveyor of sensitive blue-eyed soul; as the lead singer of Blackjack, a bouffant-wielding hair metal artist; and finally – as Michael Bolton – the mulleted, platinum-throated belter of hit after lowest-common-denominator Adult Contemporary hit.

But the chutzpah was also easy enough to spot, even before Bolton’s thinning mane and painfully earnest vocals entered heavy rotation in the fantasies of receptionists and stay-at-home moms across the country. Consider, for instance, the healthy self-confidence it took for a then-unknown Bolton to cover “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay” – or for him to turn around and defecate all over “When a Man Loves a Woman” four years later. And what kind of gigantic elephant balls must it require to nakedly poach the Isley Brothers’ “Love Is a Wonderful Thing” for a song that you give the same title, and then drag out the court battle for six years before losing – twice?

And please, for the love of God, let us not get into either of Bolton’s albums of classic soul covers – wishfully titled Timeless, volumes One and Two – or his opera album, My Secret Passion.

Still, you’ve got to hand it to Bolton: Since beginning his slide off the charts in the mid-‘90s, he’s managed to forego any sort of comeback attempt; instead, he’s entered the sort of don’t-give-a-fuck period that only artists who have sold squidillions of records (and been smart enough not to piss away their royalties) can enjoy. Sure, he’s released a couple of half-hearted pop albums in the last 10 years – but for the most part, he’s concentrated on counting his dough and/or releasing collections like this one. All things considered, it’s been a remarkably graceful transition for the guy who once used the Grammys as a forum for telling his critics to kiss his ass.

A Swingin’ Christmas follows the aural middle finger to greatness that was last year’s Bolton Swings Sinatra, and if the results of this album aren’t as offensive as its predecessor, the setup and delivery are similar: Take a bunch of songs everyone knows, craft the safest, blandest arrangements possible, add warm milk, gently stir, repeat. These are songs you surely already own other (and better) versions of; every one of these ten tracks have easily been recorded hundreds of times. (It bears mentioning that Bolton, Christmas-album vet that he is, has recorded some of these songs before, some of them on multiple occasions.) Even if he is a hack, he’s too much of a pro to fuck up “Walkin’ in a Winter Wonderland” or “Jingle Bell Rock”; still, it’s hard to imagine a reason (other than perhaps blind fanaticism) for anyone to own this. The arrangements don’t even swing, for Chrissakes – unless you’ve recently broken your hip, you’re bound to be disappointed in this collection’s lukewarm temperature and resolute lack of danceable tempos.

Then again, you probably won’t come within a mile of this set unless you’re a hardcore fan, or have an extreme weakness for airbrushed cover photos of brooding, middle-aged men – so perhaps the album’s musical shortcomings are beside the point. You may have heard these songs thousands of times already, and they may not swing, but it’s definitely Bolton in there. Do with that what you will.

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