Santa Claus Lane

Hilary Duff

Buena Vista Records, 2003

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


With every year I add to my age, I have to keep reminding myself that every generation has their own holiday music. Our parents had Bing Crosby, Nat "King" Cole and the Harry Simeone Chorale -- groups I still relate the Christmas season to. My generation had the original Band Aid, Elmo & Patsy and a host of teeny-bop groups doing throwaway albums.

Today's generation also has their own style of holiday music, and who better to represent them than Hilary Duff, star of Lizzie McGuire and fixture on Disney Channel. Her debut album, Santa Claus Lane, does show there is a voice behind the pretty young face, even if this is a strange place to start one's recording career.

This release -- the original 10-track disc came out a year prior -- features an additional track, "What Christmas Should Be". And while it is a pretty track, starting out the disc with a morality play is a little off-putting, especially coming from a teenager. Still, the message of the song is appropriate -- especially as the holiday season becomes more and more about material possessions than any religious significance.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Duff is able to breathe some life into some slightly stale chestnuts, such as her cover of Wham!'s "Last Christmas" -- in retrospect, this is a song that should have been sung by a female in the first place. And you have to give Duff and her band credit for trying to do something to "Wonderful Christmastime," even if the source material isn't the strongest cup of tea on the table. It doesn't totally succeed, but there is some level of joy in the track that I don't hear in Paul McCartney's original.

The bulk of Santa Claus Lane, admittedly, isn't designed for those of us in our mid-30s; rather, kids 13 and under will appreciate this disc more. That doesn't mean that parents will roll their eyes and groan when this disc is played -- indeed, Duff does show she has a strong (if slightly understated) voice that she is still growing into. On classics like "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" and "Sleigh Ride," Duff puts an interesting spin on the songs without disturbing the ghosts of the originals. Duff also introduces some tracks which -- believe it or not -- could someday become classics, such as the title track and "Same Old Christmas."

The only real mis-step comes on "Tell Me A Story," a duet with rapper Lil' Romeo which feels as out of place here as bringing a cat to a dog show. (Sorry, but it's a kids' music review, and that's the cleanest simile I could come up with.) Granted, hip-hop and rap is still popular, and I don't want to take anything away from Lil' Romeo or Duff, but this track just never takes off, nor does it live up to the standards of the other songs on this disc.

Duff is, at this writing, still not even old enough to vote, so her recording history has a long way to go. As a first effort, Santa Claus Lane is respectable, even as we wonder where she'll take things. As a Christmas album, it has the possibility of having longer legs than, say, Hanson's Snowed In.

Rating: B-

User Rating: C


Ugh. Give me Dylan's new Christmas record or a compilation of classic Nat King Cole and Sinatra over this dreck any day.
I won't disagree with the Cole or Sinatra selections - I personally would throw the Harry Simeone Chorale in there as well - but I'd rather have King Kong Bundy rearrange my spine with a Volkswagen than listen to that turdburger that Dylan called a Christmas album. Pair that one up with Ringo Starr's "I Wanna Be Santa Claus" - two albums I had the misfortune of reviewing - for a night you'll wish you could forget.

Interesting to note: Wikipedia, the last time I checked, quoted me by name in their listing of this album. Not my proudest moment, but I'll take it - I mean, I've written at least a thousand reviews in this site's 14-year history, and they chose THIS one?!?

© 2004 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Buena Vista Records, and is used for informational purposes only.