WHEN THE monotony inevitably sets in over the month-long Christmas music period, it’s always time for some Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Part rock, part classical, part choir, part solo, part traditional, part contemporary, the New York-based rock orchestra doesn’t do Christmas music quite like anyone else. They probably didn’t know where to fit in, so they created their own space: somewhere between “Rudolph,” “Santa Baby,” and “Jingle Bell Rock.”
If you’re new to the TSO, they’re best known for taking classic melodies (say “Silent Night” or “Greensleeves”) and inserting a new harmony, some driving percussion, an electric guitar, and a whole lot of enthusiasm. Their strength is in revamping wearied tunes into energetic arrangements, as in their instrumental medley “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo,” in which they blend “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” with the “Carol of the Bells” in a Switchfoot-style jam session.
The orchestra has an obvious love affair with both Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” and electric guitars—a combination that works surprising well throughout their repertoire. Boys’ choirs and vocal rounds also dot their albums (“A Star to Follow” features both), keeping their version of yuletide music as diverse as possible within their own created stereotype.
TSO doesn’t just borrow from previously created melodies; they also write an occasional orginal. Some are quite good, but a few of the originals highlight TSO’s two greatest weaknesses: redundancy and shallow lyrics. A couple of the choir rounds begin to lag and the intense rock synthesis takes away from an otherwise attractive arrangement. “Back to a Reason, Pt. 2” is perhaps the deepest of the Trans-Siberian’s poetry, but even it has some sketchy filler lyrics: “I’m looking for you/I’m looking for I don’t know what/I can’t see there anymore/And all my time’s been taken.”
The Christmas Trilogy has more to recommend than any of the individual albums—it includes three classic records and a performance DVD. The richly illustrated album jacket is full of written narratives that backlight specific songs, deepening the context of a collection that will nicely complete your December experience. At some points haunting and intense, then flowing and quietly full, it’s music that’s always enjoyable for its high-quality production and unconventional arrangements.
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