The deluxe reissues of their 2017 Christmas albums help Stefani's less than Sia's.
Last year, Sia and Gwen Stefani released Christmas albums, and in a naked nod to the commercial nature of the Christmas album concept, they reissued them this holiday season with bonus tracks. I found Sia’s Everyday is Christmas far more interesting than Stefani’s You Make it Feel Like Christmas, but this year’s bonus tracks suggest that Sia got it right last year while Stefani sabotaged herself.
Last year, I reviewed You Make it Feel Like Christmas, writing:
I had high hopes for an artist who often embraces her plasticity, but on You Make it Feel Like Christmas, Gwen Stefani celebrates her domestic side. She doesn’t just wake up in Blake Shelton’s shirts; she wakes up in his accent on some songs. God has never been thanked more on a Stefani project, but those moments aren’t spiritual as much as nods to His casual place in their Whitman Samplered home. All of the album’s original songs reflect that world and would fit on the same country stations that would play Shelton if not for the retro pop fantasia production. “Under the Christmas Lights” is the best of the bunch with its echoes of girl groups—echoes that mark her version of “Last Christmas” as inspired. Of course, the song was always a Shirelles song; a couple of British lads just found it first.
The five bonus tracks added to this year’s re-release follow-up on the blueprint provided by “Last Christmas” as they jam together Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound, the lounge/stereo test record aesthetic, and Stefani’s own new wave leanings to produce tracks with far more fizz than those she made in her role as Mrs. Shelton. “Winter Wonderland” sounds contemporary even as it quotes Esquivel circa the late 1950s, and her omnivorous appreciation for pop makes the domestic “Secret Santa” sexy—almost—in a way that nothing on the initial release was.
Last year, I reviewed Sia’s Everyday is Christmas, writing:
Sia had no plans for a Christmas album, but Christmas songs came unbidden, and that ecstatic writing experience carries over into the actual Everyday is Christmas. She buys into the season at every level, singing as if the reality of Santa, elves, and living snowmen is beyond question. Instead of curbing the genre’s tendency toward musical buoyancy, she leans into it, so songs bubble, fizz and chime with good natured, sincere affection for Christmas as an experience and mythology. A title like “Santa’s Coming for Us” could be read as a threat, but it’s a promise on Everyday is Christmas—a promise set to an electronic calypso beat. The ballad “Snowman” looks on the lyric sheet like a veer in a Tim Burton-esque direction as it deals with the physical limitations of a snowman’s relationship to “Mrs. Snow,” but Sia makes it the testimony of a woman who’ll stand by her man.
The three bonus tracks on the deluxe reissue don’t quite paint a mustache on the Mona Lisa, but they do throw a well-balanced, conceptually tight album out of whack. The cover of “Round and Round” isn’t obviously a Christmas song on an album that otherwise found many novel ways to fit songs under under the holiday rubric. Similarly, “Sing for My Life” is the least imaginative love song Sia came up with for Everyday is Christmas. Only “My Old Santa Claus” stands on par with the rest of the album, but it doesn’t do so with such vigor that it’s addition feels necessary.
Bottom line: You want to stream the five or six good tracks of the 2018 version of You Make it Feel Like Christmas, and the 2017 version of Everyday is Christmas satisfies as an album better than the new one.