I’m a little ashamed to say that I was a huge Hilary Duff fan a few years ago. I know, it sounds ludicrous looking back now, but at the time I thought that she had musical talent. I don’t know where I thought the talent was, but I gave her first couple of albums a shot, including her 2002 Christmas CD, Santa Claus Lane.
Duff was only 15 at the time when she recorded Santa Claus Lane, and you can tell she was every bit the age when you are listening to the album. Her song selections unfortunately pigeon-hole the album as a teeny-bopper album, meaning it hasn’t aged well in the past 10 years. I still break it out every year to give it a listen, but it no longer makes it into the holiday rotation, and it certainly isn’t something that is required-listening anymore. Here is how the track list breaks down:
1. What Christmas Should Be
2. Santa Claus Lane
3. Santa Claus Is Coming to Town
4. I Heard Santa on the Radio
5. Jingle Bell Rock
6. When the Snow Comes Down in Tinseltown
7. Sleigh Ride
8. Tell Me a Story (About the Night Before)
9. Last Christmas
10. Same Old Christmas
11. Wonderful Christmastime
The CD starts out badly with the preachy “What Christmas Should Be”, which for all its good intentions is too pop-oriented for the intended message to come across. It’s hard to walk the line between Disney/bubble-gum pop and giving an inspirational message, and Duff just can’t pull it off here. She immediately follows it up with the uninspired though cute “Santa Claus Lane.” The beat is catchy enough, but the song is unremarkable. To be fair, it is light years better than Duff’s butchering the classic “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”, which suffers from a combination of poor vocals and bad synthesizing.
If there is a highlight on the album, it is “I Heard Santa On the Radio”, a nice duet with Christina Milian that actually shows some inspiration. Of course, things go right back in the tank in “Jingle Bell Rock”, where Duff just isn’t up to the task. The song is under sung and overproduced, as is the theme of the album. “When The Snow Comes Down in Tinseltown” is another cute song, but it is all pop fluff with no substance. I don’t know if I had ever heard so much electric guitar on a Christmas album before. I will say that Duff does do a pretty good job with “Sleigh Ride.” It is still overproduced, but it is a marked improvement over some of the previous songs.
“Tell Me a Story” is a duet with Lil Romeo that can only be a considered an unmitigated disaster. I guess teens that are fans of his might like his rapping, but I can’t see how anyone would like it as a holiday song. “Last Christmas” is a pretty decent version of the Wham hit, though it hardly does anything to sway your feelings about the rest of the album. “Same Old Christmas” is one of my favorite songs on the album, a fast paced song that uses Duff’s voice well. “Wonderful Christmastime” is an abomination that would infuriate Paul McCartney if he had any idea who Hilary Duff actually was. Seriously, it’s the worst version of the song I’ve ever heard and a terrible way to end the album.
Overall, the album has aged very poorly in the last 9 years. It was probably beloved by teenagers, who were fans of Duff’s at the time, but they have grown up and teens now likely have no clue who she is. I’m not sure who this album would work for nowadays, though there are a few serviceable tracks. The problem is that the album is overproduced and Duff was underwhelming on the classics, which are the ones she really needed to hit on. I can’t recommend the album, even to fans of her music.
This is a part of bilbopooh's 'Tis the Season Write-Off.
This review is also a part of carstairs38's Fourth Annual All Things Disney Write-Off, as it was released by Buena Vista Records when Duff was still in the Disney fold.