Today’s POP RESCUE from a festive fate unknown, is the 2003 debut album Santa Claus Lane by American actress, singer, and songwriter, Hilary Duff. Will this album make all your Christmases be bright, or will it be a bit icy? Read on…
This 2003 re-issue 11 track CD opens with synths, rock guitars, and tinkling chimes of What Christmas Should Be, with Hilary dropping in like a candy-fuelled Avril Lavingne over some heavy drums and guitars. It’s quite stylised to early 00’s teen pop and would be interesting to hear a more Christmassy styled slower version.
That leads on to the titular Santa Claus Lane, and the narrative monotone lyrics in the verse instantly reminds me of Rebecca Black’s surprise hit Friday. The chorus picks things up though, but Hilary’s vocals feel a bit restrained here until a brief glimmer as we enter the final third of the track. The song was the album’s lead single and rightly didn’t touch the UK charts.
A cover of the classic Santa Claus Is Coming To Town is next, and it starts off quite light with some synthetic handclaps, and some bursts of guitar. However, this version lacks the oompf that you’ll find in many versions (Michael Bolton’s being a belter), perhaps the bass and a lack of brass really makes it sound like a cheap supermarket aisle cover. Instead, there’s a roaring guitar solo (it’s very good, but it really could be in any song), giving the whole track a rock sound.
The tempo is lowered, and the sound is softer here in I Heard Santa On The Radio – a duet with Christina Milan. The vocal harmonies are really nice here, with Hilary and Christina working off of each other really well. Again, it’s highly early-00’s pop in sound, but the nice little light sleigh bells and ‘hey hey hey, ho, ho, ho’ gives the song a nice feel.
Jingle Bell Rock is next, and finally we have what feels like a proper Christmas song. This is fairly loyal to the usual cover versions of this foot-tapper, and this version would feel right at home on a Christmas compilation album.
Then it’s time for When The Snow Comes To Tinseltown opening with Hilary talking about how she lives in Hollywood whilst writing on what sounds like a blackboard. Again, the guitars roar, but there’s a whiff of style from 1960’s Slade here amongst Hilary’s candyfloss vocals. Some sleigh bells and chime bars drop in regularly to help the song rush along, and all in all, it’s a nice little catchy track, even if you can’t quite connect with a white teenage girl who lives in Hollywood.
A piano keyboard leads into the familiar sound of the classic Sleigh Ride. This is a nice gentle meander through this song, with Hilary rarely straying from a safe path as the backing vocalists do a great job. This is a pretty safe cover.
Then it’s on to Tell Me A Story with Lil’ Romeo who very kindly introduces himself at the start of the song before asking Hilary what she wants. The result is a lot of rapping from Lil’ Romeo, with occasional appearances from Hilary (who sounds good here), but the track is pretty minimal. Whilst it’s loaded with Christmas references and little stolen lyrics from other Christmas songs, and even some angelic angel vocals, it really doesn’t give much more. This was the album’s second single, and again, rightly didn’t touch the UK charts. I’m happy to never hear this song again.
The Wham! classic Last Christmas is next, which sees Hilary burst in with a with a percussion-led track. Whilst some of the instruments sound like they’re being bashed out on some cheap synths, the vocals are nice and warm, and the guitars are nice too. With its softer sound it really works well, and like Jingle Bell Rock, could easily find itself on a Christmas compilation without sounding out of place.
Next track Same Old Christmas is next, with guitars strumming as we head straight into the first verse. This track sees Hilary team up with sister Haylie Duff, and I don’t think I can tell them apart. We’re back to slightly angst American teenager guitar pop (which was almost its own genre in early 00s). Despite the sisters seemingly complaining about how Christmas is always the same, thankfully they say they ‘like it that way’. There’s a few vocal effects here, including what sounds the odd bit of auto-tune, but it’s used sparingly enough to pass as a good song.
The album closes with a creepy child opening a cover of Paul McCartney’s hit Wonderful Christmastime. This gives over to a racing electric guitar, a chorus of kids singing, rock drums. The track chugs along, and I think it’s this pace that doesn’t quite give Hilary enough time in the chorus to show off her vocals until a weirdly nice space-synth vocoder moment that sounds almost a nod to Paul’s original sound. The guitars pick the pace up again, in a duel with the kids as the song ends with their sinister laughing.
Over all, this album is a mixed bag.
The Christmas covers mostly work, with Jingle Bell Rock and Last Christmas being the high points here, and the chugging rockier version of Wonderful Christmastime also makes a fun and interesting end to the album.
Santa Claus Is Coming To Town sadly falls a bit flat, but it’s the two singles – Santa Claus Lane and particularly Tell Me A Story, that are the low points. They are weak, lazy, and unmemorable. The album does sound somewhat like it was made on the cheap, or quite fast (the sleeve even has whole words missing from song titles), and as time will tell, Hilary has far more vocal talent than this album allows her to demonstrate.
If this is the Same Old Christmas, then count me out for next year.
- POP RESCUE 2021 RATING: 2 / 5
- 2003 UK ALBUM CHART PEAK: Did not chart in the UK.
- POP RESCUE COST: £3.48 from an eBay seller.