Review: “The Gift Of Christmas” by En Vogue (CD, 2002)

Today’s Christmas Pop Rescue from an uncertain fate, is 2002’s The Gift Of Christmas album by American singing sensation trio En Vogue. Will this album be a stocking filler, or should it be landfill? Read on…

En Vogue - The Gift Of Christmas (2002) album
En Vogue – The Gift Of Christmas (2002) album

This 15 track CD (this edition includes two bonus tracks) opens with the church bell of Oh Christmas Tree Greeting, which is soon joined by a simple church bell, some flute, and then a wave of synths as Terry, Cindy, and newbie Amanda introduce themselves and wish you a ‘very merry Christmas and a happy New Year’ as a spoken word track.

That’s followed by the classic I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, with a somewhat funky approach thanks to some synth brass, and a roaring electric guitar. En Vogue give us some great vocals here (in the little that they’re singing), but the song sounds cheap.

There’s a key-shifted version of the intro of their former hit and Curtis Mayfield penned song Giving Him Something He Can Feel in next song, which underlies this version of Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas. The vocals here are perfectly breathy and the track has a wonderfully grand and escalating and sultry sound, including the magnificent vocal harmony and ‘shoo shoo’ ending. This is probably the style of En Vogue Christmas cover songs that you’d hope this album was filled with. Fingers crossed this approach continues through the rest of the songs.

Jingle Bells (Euro Mix) is next, and as the bracketed part of the title suggests, this is a pumping track with gurgling synths bashing out the track with what sounds like a criminal dash of auto-tune in play. Suddenly someone shouts ‘hit it’ and a whistle blows before someone plays a Bontempi Synth Strings solo. I could forgive The Cheetah Girls for this, but not En Vogue. There is no excuse for auto-tuning En Vogue’s vocal prowess. The track does a drama stab ending, and to be honest it was it or me.

By contrast is Snowy Nights (an original track) which has some wonderfully soft and tender vocals that allow En Vogue to shine vocally and as songwriters. It’s soft, gentle and that befits the theme and title, with wafting synth pads, and a nice relaxed bass and recurring guitar riff. The piano drops in with some chime bars, tinkling in a few high-pitched notes. It’s a really nice and cosy song.

My Christmas follows this and the piano returns alongside a nice chilled bass. We’re treated again to some nice cosy original songwriting here as the group reminisce over Christmas cooking. The group sound happy, relaxed, and in full vocal as they wish Happy Christmas and Happy Kwanzaa The beat and piano chord sequence reminds me a lot of Limit To Your Love by James Blake.

A needle drops onto some old vinyl, as a distorted electronic beat joins in. A piano, guitar, and haunting vocals arrive as we step into Merry Christmas Baby. The track sounds almost ghostly, but vocally rich. The guitar solo really works well alongside the vocals, but there’s not a vast amount of vocals elsewhere in this song. Again there’s some auto-tune in play here towards the end as one of the group starts getting fruity with a robo Santa.

It’s on to This Christmas next, and sadly it’s not a cover of the Donny Hathaway hit (which I think would have been phenomenal with their vocal power). Instead, it’s another swaggering original song and this one ‘makes a toast’ to friends, children, family, and of course Jesus. The song as a nice little personal dedication to them. It includes obligatory drinking and sleigh bells though, but I think i’d have preferred the Hathaway cover.

That’s followed by a fun rock ‘n’ roll styled That’s What Christmas Means To Me – a cover of the 1960’s Stevie Wonder track. This has handclaps, key changes, and piano rolls. This style also works well for a Christmas En Vogue song, and really should have been a single to help the album find success. It’s fun, playful, and loaded with festive cheer.

With My Honey follows that, returning us back to a vocal harmony-filled original ballad. A bass meanders along, as a steady beat drops in. En Vogue arrive, to sing about wrapping presents alone, and reminiscing ‘playing boardgames and watching movies’. Turns out, the loneliness is short lived and the song is a nice warm plod through a sense of togetherness at Christmas time.

Then it’s Oh Holy Night, which opens with some synths that sound like the incidental music from early episodes of Time Team. This soon gives way to an acoustic guitar and some expertly delivered vocals. Whilst the song is musically like a karaoke track, En Vogue’s vocal performance is what you’d wish for, and they get plenty of time and space to show off their voices and range. Brass and drum fills arrive, along with a chorus of singers allowing the track to build nicely.

Next is What Child Is This (Prayer). The spoken Lord-laden prayer is somewhat lost on me as an agnostic, but again the music is instantly recognisable from my childhood playing Greensleeves on a kazoo.

That leads in to a fully sung What Child Is This (Vocal). This time, the simple music track takes a back seat for a bit whilst the warm vocals build and swell around the lead vocalists. Its simplicity works well, allowing the focus to be the vocals even if the song doesn’t really travel much due to its nature.

Then it’s time for the two bonus tracks, the first of which is a banging Jingle Bells (Rock Version). Here we hear En Vogue go En Rogue as the deeper, heavier, rock vocals sit alongside racing drums and roaring guitars. This version is a lot better than the ‘Euro Mix’ from earlier. En Vogue are great with vocally harmonious songs, but also angry harder songs, and this fits the latter perfectly. It does feel that there’s a little too much lead guitar at times, but when it goes for the intricate solo piece, it works a treat.

Speaking of treats, the album closes with Jingle Bells (Instrumental Version) – and it’s the rock version that they’ve chosen. I challenge you not to sing the rock version to it!

‘I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus’ from En Vogue’s 2002 album.

Verdict

Over all, this album has some wonderful En Vogue moments, but at other times feels like it was made by committee.

The album didn’t deliver any chart singles, which is a problem, as the highlights are certainly the superb That’s What Christmas Means To Me, My Christmas, the cosy original Snowy Nights would have been great singles – even the Jingle Bells (Rock Version) would have been a lot of fun. The low points are led by that Euro Mix of Jingle Bells, but also the travesty of using auto-tune on a EV member. The rest of the songs are just nice.

What is clear though, is how the original songs work well with En Vogue, and with the addition of the Stevie Wonder cover, the other cover versions feel somewhat mediocre.

The album visually looks cheap – the artwork and printing looks low quality, and the choices of font and font size is poor – making it hard to read the sleeve to see what’s on this. This is the first and last En Vogue album to feature Amanda Cole, and it’s unfortunate that she was only here for this unsuccessful Christmas album.

Rated 3 stars! It's a nice album.
  • POP RESCUE 2022 REVIEW RATING: 3 / 5
  • 2002 UK ALBUM CHART PEAK: Did not chart.
  • POP RESCUE COST: £6.28 from an eBay seller.

Based on all of the En Vogue albums that
we have reviewed so far, we are able to
calculate their average album score as
3.67 out of 5.

En Vogue average album rating score

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