Today’s POP RESCUE from a roaring fire, is the 1998 Christmas album Home For Christmas by *NSYNC, but would this be a welcome visitor? Read on…
This 14 track album opens with title track Home For Christmas, itself starting with lots of harmonious ‘oohs’ from the guys as bells gently clang. Soon, the vocals begin as sleigh bells gently jingle in the background as a keyboard plays. The beat is gentle, much like the vocals and the end result is a light little song synonymous with late 90’s boyband pseudo-ballads. The song takes an almost gospel turn as it builds up for the final push.
This is followed by Under My Tree. This is another slow number, again with loads of ooh-ing vocal harmonies. Nat King Cole gets a name drop, as the lyrics take a sentimental tone reminiscing about Christmases past. I could easily imagine Blue singing this song too.
Up next is another original, I Never Knew The Meaning Of Christmas, which has some wonderful acoustic guitar and string sections. The group show off their rich, warm, harmonies again. The guitar really helps this song, whilst the beats gently tap out a rhythm. This is quite a nice song – musically and lyrically. There’s also some lovely ‘faa la laa‘ moments too (there’s not enough of those in Christmas songs).
Piano ushers in the more up-beat Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays (clearly an attempt to reach out to more fans!). There’s quite a hard beat to this, and the piano dances along effortlessly throughout. This results in quite a catchy song, which is why it found itself as the one and only single released from this album – but in the US only, where it stumbled at #37.
I think it’s Justin Timberlake who delicately opens Christmas classic The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire). His sugary vocals manage to carry the song well, but it’s not a patch on the earlier, deeper-voiced recordings, like the Nat King Cole original. It’ll do.
I Guess It’s Christmas Time follows, and this is another original. The saccharine lyrics are a plenty here – ‘and we’ll all join hands to celebrate the goodness that shines in everyone‘ as the group sing about little children’s faces. This cutesy mid-tempo ballad is ploddingly simple, but it’ll rot your teeth if you listen to it a second time.
Don’t get confused with Mariah Carey’s masterpiece, this is All I Want Is You This Christmas. This time, it’s the turn of a higher-pitched vocalist (i’ve no idea which one) at the start. These vocals feel a little weaker here, but it’s bolstered by the wave of vocal harmonies and some funky sax that winds its way through the backing track. The mic is re-claimed by one of the others (lets call him Justin), and it seems to get a boost.
We’re back in familiar territory now, as NSYNC take on The First Noel. Vocal harmonies are the only route through this one, and the guys take it. Acoustic guitars take an almost twinkling bell tone, as this carol is sung. Suddenly a beat comes in, and it reminds me briefly of East 17‘s Christmas hit Stay Another Day. Thankfully, this isn’t too disruptive, and the end result is quite a nice up-beat version.
Whilst opening with a segment of Jingle Bells, the next song is actually In Love On Christmas. Surely this should actually be In Love AT Christmas? Oh well. This is a slick RnB number, with lots of heartfelt vocal moments. Again, this song treads into Blue territory, but maybe even also a bit of Craig David’s too.
A wind howls as someone walks through the snow. Bells gently tingle, as the guys deliver more harmonies at the start of another original song It’s Christmas. This is a simple song, with sleigh bells faintly ringing in the background. Keyboards, guitar, and strings weave through the vocals as the guys take it in turns to sing their little socks off. For a few moments, during the more effeminate vocals (again, no idea whose), I’m reminded of the Spice Girls – and wondering whether this would have been different with Emma Bunton or Melanie C chipping in.
For some reason, the guys tackle O Holy Night (A Cappella) – not the easiest of traditional carols to do well, but as a cappella, they’ve pretty much got it nailed. Their vocal layers and harmonies sound well rehearsed and it really is a lovely version. This is the album highlight so far, and shows off their voices perfectly.
Love’s In Our Hearts On Christmas Day follows, which keeps the sound stripped back – with little more than a piano, vocals and strings. Again, the vocal harmonies really shine here, and there’s plenty of time and space for them to do so without a beat.
Up next is penultimate track The Only Gift, which is a stronger track than the last one – this time seeing bass and beats join the piano. The chorus lifts the song, turning it into a more singalong song. The song takes a segment from Deck The Halls, and nods to Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, but they are only brief. There’s the obligatory boy band key change moment at 2m 30s or so, as the track heads to its final push.
The album closes with Kiss Me At Midnight. Piano, bells, and hi-hats lead us into this up-tempo track. This feels like it’s much more in line with the NSYNC style – complete with chugging bass, even if it is more of a New Year’s Eve song (there’s a count down in it too). This is quite a nice little pop song, and had me tapping my foot.
Where are NSYNC now?
NSYNC failed to chart this album, or it’s UK release in 2002 (under title The Meaning of Christmas) in the UK. Despite this, the group managed a phenomenal simultaneous success in the US and UK for a few years – resulting in their faces being plastered all over boardgames, lip balms, bedding, and video games and many other types of merchandise, and huge tours.
Their final appearance in the UK singles chart was 2002 with single Girlfriend, which gave them a #2 hit, whilst their final charting album – their Greatest Hits, released in 2005 after the group’s break up, finally charted in the UK in 2013 – at #96.
In 2013, the group briefly reunited on stage for MTV, during a set by Justin Timberlake, but have denied that they will re-form for any new material.
JC went on to launch a solo career, with his debut solo album Schizophrenic (2004). However, commercial success of the group didn’t follow. He has gone on to write and produce for acts like Girls Aloud, Basement Jaxx and the Backstreet Boys. He has also had a number of film and TV appearances, including The Simpsons.
Lance Bass went on to set up his own production companies, resulting in a small number of films. He also successfully completed training and became certified by NASA and the Russian Space Program, and was set to join the crew of the Space Station until his funder dropped out. He has appeared in numerous TV shows and films.
Joey Fatone has found post-NSYNC fame in film and theatre, as well as occasional appearances on TV shows. He starred in Jersey Shore: Shark Attack (2012), and will resume his role of Angelo for the 2016 sequel of 2002’s My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
By comparison, Chris Kirkpatrick has been fairly quiet aside from a couple of TV shows, and an attempt to break through as a country music star. More recently he has decided to give up his $2.3m home in Orlando.
Justin Timberlake? Well… he saved Myspace, brought sexy back, and did some other stuff… 😉
POP RESCUE RATING:
Over all, this album is perfectly ‘nice’. If you’re an NSYNC or Justin Timberlake fan, then you’ll undoubtedly be a fan of this, and probably have it already. O Holy Night really is worth a listen if you’re a newcomer to NSYNC or you’re not completely convinced by the prospect of this album.
It’s a brave move to put so many originals on here, but then the success of NSYNC’s debut album immediately before it, must have filled the team with confidence that this would sell (in much the same way Hanson’s probably did).
As to which boyband Christmas album is better between this and last year’s review of New Kids On The Block’s 1989 effort, i’m unsure who’d take the crown.
- POP RESCUE 2015 RATING: 3 / 5
- 1998 UK CHART PEAK: Didn’t chart in UK.
- POP RESCUE COST: £1.69 from an eBay seller.