It feels like an unwritten pop culture precept at this point that musicians of a certain magnitude must eventually try their hand at recording a Christmas album, a reality that doesn’t often sit well with either holiday humbugs and those listeners who lean more toward Andy Williams than Auto-Tune around this time of year (which is to say, most of them).
By and large, most “modern” Christmas music is a rather dismal affair, awkwardly retrofitting everyone from Bob Dylan to Justin Bieber into holiday classics they’re hard-pressed to update and near-always powerless to improve. And so it makes sense that some more-adventurous artists have set out in search of new classics, interpreting Christmas through their own sonic sensibilities and lyrical lenses; occasionally, that yields an “All I Want For Christmas Is You”-sized stocking stuffer, but more often it just opens the door to further mistletoe-laden mayhem.
Such is the case with the grammatically questionable, overbearingly quirky “Everyday Is Christmas,” a collection of all-original yuletide tunes from Aussie chanteuse Sia that alternates between two poles the singer seems to prize about equally. To one side are strewn exceedingly silly ballads she plays sincere (on the jazzy “Snowman,” she serenades a love on the cusp of melting away and talks of “dancing at the North Pole”; in the next track, “Snowflake,” she a-bit-too-similarly lauds the unique beauty of a very special . . . you get it); to the other are stacked uptempo ditties that so euphorically spew holiday cheer as to resemble candy cane-colored confetti cannons (the manic “Ho Ho Ho,” where, true to form, she whips the Island of Misfit Toys into a brassy marching band; and “Candy Cane Lane,” sung with such slurry hyperactivity that she might well have been gargling jingle bells).
The contrast can be jarring, especially when indulged to extremes. “Puppies Are Forever” is a grating, google-eyed sugar slog of nightmarish proportions; elsewhere, the title track unfurls as an amorous register workout in which Sia’s use of holiday-speak feels incidental, if not flat-out forced. Sonically as well as lyrically, the album also struggles at times to utilize Sia’s gift for melisma and vocal breaks without losing snatches of lyrics in the process.
Luckily, in her most cannily festive move, Sia leaves the best present for last. An ethereally gorgeous angel’s choir of a finale, “Underneath the Christmas Lights” sends Sia’s high notes drifting far above a gracefully sedate piano melody, like smoke wafting from the chimney of a stocking-streaked fireplace, before effortlessly interwining the two. It may lack the giddy pop sensibilities of Mariah Carey’s most lasting contribution to the Christmas music canon — or of the album that precedes it, more pressingly — but it’s the one song here that feels similarly timeless. And in any case, it makes for one luminous star to top Sia’s entertainingly off-kilter tree.