Collections of holiday music are a lot like the holiday season itself: not without some magic, but after a few of them you kind of know what you're in for. While that may sound like a cynical assessment, it's not meant to be. Holiday music, Christmas songs in particular, become pervasively ubiquitous, with countless renditions of ageless seasonal tunes showing up every year some weeks before Thanksgiving and sticking around until the year changes. Holidays Rule attempts to shake up the standard holiday listening with a cross section of artists ranging from ragtag indie acts to legitimate pop icons having a go at time-honored Christmas classics and wintry holiday songs. The collection features contributions from 17 diverse acts, and at its best, the material succeeds in offering an exciting perspective on songs we've all heard in every shopping center and dentist office around the holidays since what feels like the beginning of time. Fun. open the set with a slickly produced pop-friendly version of "Sleigh Ride." The pristine arrangement and enormous drums drive the song and turn an often benign tune into something actually pretty exciting. Likewise the Shins' take on Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime" does not disappoint, re-envisioning the song in a overt homage to Brian Wilson's saturated Pet Sounds-era productions. McCartney himself shows up a few tracks later with a sweet and standard reading of "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire." Eleanor Friedberger from Fiery Furnaces offers the weirdest selection with "Santa, Bring My Baby Back to Me." The song begins in a regular faux jazz-pop style, breaking down into an overly long section of hypnotic dubbed-out chanting and marimba vamping. More than once on Holidays Rule, bands turn in dire, almost depressive renditions of public domain songs. Calexico's melodramatic over-orchestrated take on "Green Grows the Holly" and the Civil Wars' indie folk dirge "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" both drag the collection down with their heavy-handedness. Though the collection has several standouts and a few duds, much of Holidays Rule is as straightforward as it comes, with unremarkable versions of holiday songs by very good names like the Fruit Bats, Holly Golightly, and Irma Thomas backed by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, among others. At its best, the collection is spirited fun, and at its worst it's inoffensive background music, but it falls short of the adventurous spin on the holiday times it sets out for.
AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas