Jingle Decibels

Two years ago Beck recorded "The Little Drum-Machine Boy," which appeared on a Geffen holiday compilation and allowed its creator to bill himself, tongue planted firmly in cheek, as "the Hanukkah pimp" (Yes, he's Jewish). This year the alterna-folk legend-in-the-making has released the Internet-only single "Santa Claus Is Coming to Death Valley '69," a wildly morose quasi cover of an old Sonic Youth composition that makes such cryptic pronouncements as "God rode shotgun while I drove fast" and "I am the tree beneath the tree/Ornamental happenings are happening to me." Eastern instrumentation (sitar, gamelan) and percussion that can only be described as unorthodox (no pun intended) add to the aggressively enigmatic atmosphere.

With the first volume of his War & Peace comeback record just in stores and the second due in February, rap kingpin Ice Cube hardly has time to breathe, let alone time to record his first Christmas album. Still, here it is: Holiday on Ice, perhaps the only album in history with cover art that depicts jolly old St. Nick pulling off a drive-by shooting from his sleigh. Cube kicks things off with "The Wrong Santa to F--- With," a remake of his thuggish classic "The Wrong Nigga to F--- With" that finds Santa robbing the houses he visits ("I'll come down the chimney dressed in red/The only thing that's in a stocking is my motherfucking head"). After "Black Christmas," a gangsta tale that samples the Emotions' classic, and "Let It Snow," another rock-hard tune that has nothing to do with the Sammy Cahn original, Cube caps things off by hilariously reupholstering "Check Yo'Self" as "Check Yo' Elf." If your idea of holiday spirits is a forty of St. Ides, this is the place to start.

A few years ago, in the thick of the Antichrist Superstar sessions, Marilyn Manson took a break to record a batch of holiday favorites for the Chicago indie Red Moon Records. But the glam-cum-shock-rocker wasn't happy with the results, and he sought an injunction to prevent the tracks from ever seeing the light of day. Red Moon fought the good fight, and finally got relief. Now, Manson fans can enjoy the twelve tracks collected on Anti-Christmas Superstar. Well, "enjoy" might overstate the case. While the cover art (Manson, decked out in bondage gear, pulling a sleigh) has a cartoonishly menacing appeal, most of the songs here are strident, sub-NIN remakes of standard carols ("The Little Drummer Boy" and "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen"). The album's one high point, a Mansonic remake of "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch," demonstrates what kind of irreverent delight this project could have been.

And finally there's Bob Dylan himself. Way back in 1980, when his born-again-Christian fever was breaking and his rediscovery of Judaism was in force, the spiritually restless rock legend recorded Divided Soul, a defiant act of split spirituality that included seven Christmas tunes, mostly hymns, and seven Hebrew prayers. Rumors of the record and a few stray songs have circulated among collectors for years, but now a perfervid German Dylan fan named has Dieter Lsgner has finally pieced the whole thing together, retitled it Wanting It Both Ways, and started burning his own CDs of the project.

The sound quality isn't fantastic, but the songs are. On the Christian side, Dylan reveals his disillusionment with a bitter "Oh Come All Ye Faithful," a funereal "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," and a naked "In the Bleak Midwinter." The Jewish side is equally strange, with Dylan turning in solo acoustic versions of songs like "Maoz Tzur," "Mi Yemalel," and "Hava Negila." The oddest selection of the whole bunch? A croaked-out of "Twas the Night Before Christmas," stretched over an original melody Dylan fans will recognize as the stately "Not Dark Yet," from 1997's Grammy-winning Time Out of Mind.

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