Verdict: Pop goddess turns back time.
Duff McKagan: Lighthouse
Verdict: Illuminating Return.
The Cranberries: to the Faithful
Verdict: Poignant tribute.
There’s an unwritten rule on this page not to mention Christmas records until December. As with most rules, there’s always an exception and when Cher decides to release a Christmas album in October, it would seem Scrooge-like not to deck the halls with boughs of holly and join the party.
There’s nothing understated about Christmas. The original goddess of pop refuses to dress it up as a ‘holiday album’ that would also take in the November feast of Thanksgiving.
From the opening sleigh bells to a schmaltzy duet with Michael Bublé, the Yuletide spirit rules. Made with the Californian diva’s long-term collaborator Mark Taylor (who co-produced her biggest hit, Believe, in 1998), the album is scattergun in the way it jumps between genres — pop classics, jazz tunes, newly-written dance tracks — but it’s all tied neatly together by Cher’s huskily powerful voice and infectious sense of fun.
Her first album since 2018’s Dancing Queen, an Abba tribute inspired by her role in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, Christmas is a mixture of new songs and covers. Of the former, DJ Play A Christmas Song is a disco banger with a touch of Believe-style auto-tune. ‘I should be asleep by the heat of the fire,’ mulls Cher. ‘But I’m on my way out . . . and I’m gonna stay out.’
A first-name-only star long before Madonna, Beyoncé and Adele, she still has plenty of pulling power and parades a stellar array of guests. Stevie Wonder, who has kept a low profile since a 2019 kidney transplant, plays harmonica on What Christmas Means To Me.
Her first album since 2018’s Dancing Queen, Christmas is a mixture of new songs and covers
A first-name-only star long before Madonna, Beyoncé and Adele, Cher still has plenty of pulling power and parades a stellar array of guests.
There’s nothing understated about Christmas. The original goddess of pop refuses to dress it up as a ‘holiday album’ that would also take in Thanksgiving
‘Every time I hear that harmonica, I’m a teenager again,’ says Cher. There are duets with Bublé (on Home) and Cyndi Lauper (on country track Put A Little Holiday In Your Heart).
The most emotional moment pairs Cher with veteran soul star Darlene Love on a fantastic revamp of the latter’s Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home). When Love first recorded the track, for Phil Spector’s fabled A Christmas Gift For You LP in 1963, a then unknown Cher sang backing vocals. Now sharing the lead, the two singers revisit a classic with warmth and gale-force intensity.
Elsewhere, Cher is in her element on Chuck Berry’s Run Rudolph Run (‘all I want for Christmas is a rock and roll electric guitar’), and her version of Charles Brown’s Please Come Home For Christmas sticks to the bluesy doo-wop of the 1960 original. Eartha Kitt’s Santa Baby feels like a novelty too far, but the digital pop of new track Drop Top Sleigh Ride is remarkably credible.
Cher isn’t known for tender introspection, but she finishes on a reflective note.
This Will Be Our Year, a U.S. hit for British band The Zombies in 1968, isn’t a Christmas song. But, singing beautifully, she turns it into one. ‘This will be our year . . . took a long time to come,’ she sings. Christmas 2023 has arrived before the clocks go back, but Cher pulls this off with sparkle and sass.
As a founder member of hard-rock group Guns N’ Roses, bassist Duff McKagan was central to both the band’s bad-boy attitude and the way they freshened up the genre with Sweet Child O’ Mine and Welcome To The Jungle.
He’s also a versatile songwriter — one admired by Bob Dylan — and Lighthouse, his first solo LP in four years, springs surprises.
The title track, a song about finding a port in the storm, sacrifices crunching riffs for acoustic strumming and an arrangement reminiscent of Hunky Dory-era Bowie. Even more unexpected are the religious metaphors sprinkled over I Saw God On 10th St. and Holy Water. ‘Mother Mary, won’t you come to me,’ sings McKagan, in an echo of Paul McCartney’s lyrics to Let It Be.
Duff McKagan is a versatile songwriter — one admired by Bob Dylan — and Lighthouse, his first solo LP in four years, springs surprises
Duff McKagan, seen here alongside Axl Rose, was a founding member of the superstar hard rock band Guns N’ Roses
The Cranberries new album is also a tribute to Dolores O’Riordan, who died in London in 2018
The Seattle musician hasn’t given up on the mosh pit entirely, and his Guns N’ Roses bandmate Slash supplies a thunderous riff on Hope.
There are also entertaining cameos from Iggy Pop and Alice In Chains guitarist Jerry Cantrell. The latter helps out on pensive ballad I Just Don’t Know, helping to cast dyed-in-the-wool rocker McKagan in a fresh light.
The Cranberries were at a crossroads in 1996. Despite sounding nothing like the era’s rampant Britpop bands, the Limerick quartet were huge on both sides of the Atlantic, and their third album, To The Faithful Departed, tried to build on the success by blending their familiar indie-pop with mainstream rock.
Now repackaged, the album veers between sensitivity and bluster. It’s also now a tribute to singer Dolores O’Riordan, who died in London in 2018.
Her haunting vocals lift an uneven set of songs and she shines on the bonus tracks: a live version of anti-war song Zombie and an exhilarating take on Fleetwood Mac’s Go Your Own Way.