Taking advantage of your seasonal obligation to buy stuff for people, the music industry unleashes its annual torrent of giftable crap: holiday albums, greatest-hits packages, high-profile releases, deluxe reissues. To help you with your holiday shopping, I've compiled a list of all the season's essential items . . . and since I seem to have some column inches left over, I might as well include some of the season's top inessentials:
STING | IF ON A WINTER'S NIGHT . . . [DG] | The man is legendary for his stamina, and here he sustains 50 minutes of prodigiously focused tantric boredom. In the spirit of the holidays, Sting has cast festivity aside in favor of stoic contemplation. "It's not entirely happy," he tells Billboard, "and I also avoided symbols that I think have been overused, like Santa Claus or Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." Instead, he's condensed everything anyone has ever disliked about winter into a collection of hoary carols and traditional, furrow-browed British Isles horseshit — one suspects that he started with the concept of growing a beard and wearing a big cable-knit sweater and let the music follow.
Actually, one doesn't even have to suspect that. Right after I wrote the above, I ran across this choice quote: "We sat around the kitchen table with the fire on, huddled up with coats and scarves, and explored these songs together. It was like method recording — it had to be cold for us to begin this thing."
A PERFECT GIFT FOR: humorless, pretentious, middle-aged shits; anyone you're trying to coax into suicide via seasonal affective disorder.
ENYA | THE VERY BEST OF ENYA [Warner Bros.] | I just read a news story about this dude who they thought was in a coma for more than 20 years, but he was actually just paralyzed, fully conscious of his situation but unable to communicate. It's impossible to imagine spending two decades in an endless waking nightmare of maddening ennui and inescapable hopelessness. But if you want the one-hour version, here it is.
A PERFECT GIFT FOR: veterinarians, maybe — I think they use this crap to euthanize cats.
YNGWIE MALMSTEEN | HIGH IMPACT [Rising Force] | In case you didn't know, Malmsteen boasts — and boy does he boast — of being one of the world's fastest guitarists. That's admirable as a technical feat, I guess, though it's about as artistically relevant as being the world's loudest architect. This compilation offers a selection of his "most masterful" instrumentals from the past 15 years, plus a very special bonus track: a timely cover of Michael Jackson's "Beat It" with vocals by Judas Priest stand-in Tim "Ripper" Owens. I've got a well-developed hunch that this might turn out to be one of the worst covers in history — I scoured the 'net for a leak, but to no avail. I promise to report back when I hear the thing.
A PERFECT GIFT FOR: autistic metalheads; perversely open-minded Michael Jackson fans; people you hate.