It would have been something quite extraordinary if Mariah Carey had managed to produce another Christmas record as amazing as 1994's Merry Christmas. Merry Christmas II You has a different vibe and lacks the overall magic of its predecessor, but it's a wonderful record all its own and features some truly outstanding tracks. I'm not madly in love with a few of the songs on here, but there is no doubt that this album has earned a spot in my annual rotation of Christmas music. And I might as well be the one to say it - Mariah still makes that Santa's helper outfit look really good.
I must admit that I found the first half of this album somewhat uneven. Oh Santa! Is a fun and catchy tune which you can't help but compare to Merry Christmas' All I Want For Christmas is You - that's a fight it cannot win, but it's a really nice song that really grows on me more and more each time I hear it. I did feel tinges of disappointment with the songs O Little Town of Bethlehem and The First Noel, though. To me, it seemed like Mariah was trying a little too hard on these songs, overdoing her famed vocal acrobatics in particular to the extent that her voice didn't seem wholly natural. Then, on the jazzy Charlie Brown Christmas, her voice seems noticeably airy. Don't get me wrong - these are still good songs. The only track I have a problem with is Here Comes Santa Claus, which is weighted down with a lot of hip hop background noise and a beat that sometimes had me expecting someone to break out with a rendition of Another One Bites the Dust.
Once I got to Oh Come All Ye Faithful/Hallelujah Chorus, though, this Christmas album really seemed to come alive. Mariah's soulful and reverent lyrics are wonderful, but the unexpected addition of a true opera soprano (none other than Mariah's mother, Patricia Carey) ringing out the Hallelujah Chorus makes this the most powerful version of Oh Come All Ye Faithful I've ever heard. It's a little weird to hear someone singing higher notes than Mariah, but the fusion of these two incredible voices is magical. The live version of Oh Holy Night (my favorite Christmas song of all) is a true gift from Mariah to the world. Few singers can truly do this song justice, but Mariah is undeniably among them. The power just keeps building with One Child, an absolutely beautiful song. Of all four brand new songs on this album (all co-written by Mariah), the one I think people should really be talking about is this one. Up next is a new Extra Festive version of All I Want for Christmas Is You (which is still my second favorite secular Christmas song of all time) - this is the very definition of a sure thing. Mariah still has one Christmas miracle up her sleeve, though. I always find New Year's to be a depressing holiday, but Mariah strips all traces of melancholy out of Auld Lang Syne to produce a track that even I find infectiously joyous.
Every year since 1994, Mariah has helped me get into the Christmas spirit, and I am delighted to now have two musical sources of inspiration to draw upon. I really don't see how anyone could listen to this album and walk away disappointed.