by Christian Bonavita
When it comes to Christmas albums, 5-man acappella group Pentatonix has a history of success; their first effort, PTXmas, introduced them to wider audiences in 2012, and in 2014, their second holiday album, That’s Christmas to Me, found huge success, selling over 2 million copies and winning them a Grammy. So, when they introduced a follow-up project, titled A Pentatonix Christmas, expectations were set at an extraordinarily high level. And while the new album is creative and presents some of the best vocals ever heard from the group’s members, on most of the tracks, it hardly feels like a holiday album. Instead, on its weakest tracks, it seems rushed and poppy.
A unique part of A Pentatonix Christmas is its song choices; it features many lesser known songs that aren’t seen on the average holiday album. For example, Coventry Carol is a solemn, traditional English carol that Pentatonix modernize with slow, tight harmonies and an impressive lead vocal by their bass, Avi Kaplan. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, originally sung by N’Sync, is a mostly forgotten Christmas song that Pentatonix cover in a cheerful way. And while both of these tracks are strong, they are overshadowed by another song not usually found on Christmas albums, a cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. This song is the centerpiece of the album. While it starts slowly, it builds into a chill-inducing final chorus in which all of Pentatonix’s members are belting in harmony. More traditional songs found on the album are White Christmas and I’ll Be Home for Christmas, which are not extremely notable, but solid picks.
Another important component of the album is the three original holiday songs it contains. The first, Christmas Sing-Along, was written by Pentatonix’s beatboxer, Kevin Olusola, and is the weakest original featured. It seems unoriginal and basic, with clichéd lyrics and a typical melody. The second original, Coldest Winter, could be found on a pop album. It is a love song that barely mentions Christmas or cold weather at all. On the final original, Good to Be Bad, Pentatonix finally find their footing. The song is anchored by Kirstie Maldonado’s playful lead vocals, and while it feels modern, it feels like it could also be a Christmas classic.
Unfortunately, the album also contains some weaker tracks. Up on the Housetop sounds over-produced and doesn’t have a Christmas-music feel at all. Similarly, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen sounds rushed and could have fared better with a slower arrangement. It is a very complicated arrangement, reminiscent of Pentatonix’s Grammy winning Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, but seems impossible to perform live and completely studio-produced.
Overall, A Pentatonix Christmas is an impressive feat when considering it is performed by 5 voices with no instrumental backing, but Pentatonix has seemed to take a different direction with their Christmas albums, one that has fallen short of their previous works. This alternate direction may have been to distinguish A Pentatonix Christmas from its predecessors, but it only makes listeners remember their earlier groundbreaking successes.
Top Tracks: Hallelujah, I’ll Be Home for Christmas, Good to Be Bad