Various Artists

Lump of Coal

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Though not a complete success, Lump of Coal makes for an entertaining Christmas effort thanks to some sharp standouts. Assembled by the First Warning label after its tie-up with the BMG conglomerate, the album draws on a variety of other BMG-distributed labels for participating acts. There's no real theme to the record, wry title aside, there's neither a spirited trashing of the holiday nor a traditional, straight-up series of performances. Instead, it splits down the middle between reverence and lack thereof. One of the best songs leads things off -- Australia's garage/surf kings the Hoodoo Gurus explode through a rampaging take on "The Little Drummer Boy," subtitled "Up the Khyber" in an amusing reference to an early Pink Floyd song. Two of First Warning's best acts, the criminally underrated Drunken Boat and Divine Weeks, also serve up winners. The former tackles the Miles Davis/Bob Dorough collaboration "Blue X-mas (To Whom It May Concern)" with a spirited, energetic elan, while Divine Weeks assays "O Holy Night" with strong, slow passion, Bill See in great voice. Other fun efforts include a romp through "O Little Town of Bethlehem" by the Young Fresh Fellows and a rough version of Elton John's "Stepping Into Christmas" via the Wedding Present, who allegedly contributed this because there was supposed to be an Elvis track on the album. Most of the rest of Lump of Coal is either fair or slightly off, though some tracks have their moments. The Crash Test Dummies' "The First Noel" almost gets ruined by Brad Roberts' foghorn vocals, but Ellen Reid's singing on the middle verses more than makes up for it, while Carnival Art's crunch through "Bring a Torch, Jeannette Isabella" slings in the "Welcome Christmas" song from How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Henry Rollins concludes things with a urban riot/burglar and guns/police chopper-touched revamp of "Twas the Night Before Christmas."

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