Release Date: November 13th 2020
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- 12 Days of Christmas
- Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer
- My Favourite Things
- Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone)
- Thank You
- Santa Tell Me
- Jingle Bell Rock
- When You Wish Upon a Star
- Once Upon a December
- Happy Holiday / The Holiday Season
- White Christmas (feat. Bing Crosby & The London Symphony Orchestra)
- We Need a Little Christmas
- Seasons of Love
‘…By definition, I don’t really see Pentatonix as an original-writing-music band- maybe that perception of them can change in the future, maybe not (considering they only wrote one album), but that’s beside the point. Everyone has their skills and talents, and Pentatonix’s is to create within the niche of Christmas music…but then, what happens if all the Christmas songs have been already recorded by the band? Dunno, maybe record more classic covers, but whatever the case, Pentatonix and their quirky style of making music through acapella (that frankly was popularised through the release of the Pitch Perfect movie trilogy) is something that is so far out there, that this quintet is as much needed in culture, music and society that their presence within it has created a new dimension to how Christmas music can look and sound like. They have made Christmas music fun again with their vocal talents- gone are the days where we think Christmas music is just slow and operatic hymnals found in a church hall. Pentatonix have set the bar very high for Christmas song quality, and if just one acapella group becomes inspired by what Pentatonix have done with their career, and aspire to become like them (and maybe, just maybe, they’ll succeed!), then Pentatonix’s role is a job well done. Pentatonix’s joyous acapella and upbeat style is nothing like I’m sure we have thought acapella to be- for once we thought of acapella to be just voices singing melodies and more voices joining in, like a choir in a church. But what was once thought of as being a lesser-form of a musical genre/style, is now considered to be a unique and very difficult art-form- Pentatonix, and maybe even to a lesser extent, the Pitch Perfect movie franchise with their viral video hit ‘Cups’, have led the way in a genre that is becoming more and more of an enjoyable way of listening to music. While for me it took some time getting used to, listening to songs without music, but still music-sounding nonetheless; Pentatonix have carved a bright future…we have been blessed to see a quintet with no signs of slowing down anytime soon. From pop to old classics, to slow ballads and heartfelt anthems; Pentatonix have created a brand that they themselves can decide where to go from here. Another Christmas album perhaps? Or maybe another album full of classic songs? Maybe tackling the genres of country or rock? Who knows? But whatever comes next, the world will be watching, and whatever it is, I’m sure the songs will be great. Because there is a need for acapella during such a time where the weird and wonderful, the unique and different, are often the ones that bring something new and much needed to the table of discovery of different music styles in this world of today…’
This above excerpt was one from a blog post that I did about Pentatonix, in March 2020. I wrote about their importance within the music industry, and how the resurgence of this artform called acapella music, has now been popularised by Pentatonix within the last 5-10 years. And now here as we sit in 2020, we can now classify this quintet as a premier Christmas band, creating now as it stands, 4 full-length Christmas albums (inclusive of the most recent album We Need a Little Christmas– of which I’m going to unveil a few of my thoughts in this ‘review’) to remind us of the importance of Christmas in society as a whole, whether people on an individual level ascribe to the Christian faith or not. Christmas has long been synonymous with family; and going back to what is important in this life, to let go from the hustle and bustle and to be reminded of the gift of giving, to give away of yourself in the form of time, energy, love and actual physical gifts, is what can replenish the self and give people satisfaction as you see people full of joy when they see other people impacted by a gift given. Pentatonix’s new album We Need a Little Christmas dropped digitally in November 2020, and while not every song on the 13 track album has been rubber stamped as being a ‘Christmas’ song, what this five-piece have created, is a set of songs that can be played during Christmastime, and evoke a feeling of hope, love, compassion and forgiveness, to ourselves and to one another, something that is very lacking in people right now considering the global climate right now. We Need A Little Christmas is very much needed in society at the moment, and also showcases the uniqueness of the band as a whole. It is a reminder that songs of old- be it Christmas carols, beloved hymns, folk songs of old, whatever the case…these songs can encourage people during such a season as this which is COVID-19 in 2020; and encourage us to spend time with people we love and those who are willing to impart into us courage, wisdom, and maturity. We Need a Little Christmas is a heavy dose of nostalgia, in a good way, as we see this album being enjoyed and appreciated by anyone who is a Pentatonix fan, a Christmas music fan, or both.
Pentatonix’s acapella music has always been a breath of fresh air, and this Christmas album is no different. Familiar holiday songs like ’12 Days of Christmas’, ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’, ‘Jingle Bell Rock’, ‘Happy Holidays / The Holiday Season’ and ‘White Christmas’ (the latter sung as a ‘duet’ between Pentatonix and the 1960s legend Bing Crosby) are all present here on this Christmas album, and have all been Pentatonix-fied to a point where these songs have been filled with poignancy, joy, upbeat moments of fun, and a all-round sense of these Christmas songs being enjoyable and heartfelt again in a way that no other artist has created Christmas songs before. And while for me it did take a bit of time to get used to the marrying of Pentatonix’s jovial style and Bing Crosby’s laid-back 1960s atmosphere (and even now, I still have a slight aversion to the track, because it’s not initially to my style of music), the other holiday tracks on We Need a Little Christmas work really well. And even though all these holiday songs have been recorded by countless of other people in years gone by, there’s just something about listening to a Pentatonix version of a song that brings a smile to someone’s face. ’12 Days of Christmas’ mixes up the tempo throughout the track, and probably feels the most disjointed out of all the songs on the album, while you probably wouldn’t even recognise that ‘Happy Holidays’ and ‘The Holiday Season’ are actually two tracks fused together in a seamlessly transitional way. ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ ends too soon in just over 1 minute, while ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’…well, the arrangement is good, but for me personally, I’ve never been the one to enjoy such a holiday song anyway in the first place. Regardless, the holiday songs on the album are good from a technical standpoint, but what really makes the album shine and bring it to the heights that we know and love to see the band reach, are the other songs on the album- the covers, the worshipful ones, and the songs that just don’t ‘fit’ into the nice mould of ‘Christmas’ and ‘holiday’ tracks.
‘My Favourite Things’, originally written by Rodgers and Hammerstein for the 1950s musical The Sound of Music (and was then popularised through the film adaption of the stage production, starring Julie Andrews), is one of the highlights on We Need a Little Christmas, and though not technically a Christmas song, is nevertheless a great reminder during this December Christmas season to always think about our favourite things, and be thankful for what we have- our friends, family and the company we keep during such a time, where coming together to ponder the reason for the season, is something that has occurred in the month of December for years and years. Originally recorded by pop artist Ariana Grande, ‘Santa Tell Me’ is a song directed to Santa, asking for things for Christmas, and in respect to the song, asking ‘the big guy’ to not make falling in love a possibility if the special someone is not there next Christmas. While the song in and of itself isn’t Biblical at all, the song nevertheless reminds us all of what we like to happen during the season of Christmas, and to even ponder the possibility of prayer, because if we profess and believe in Christ Jesus, we know that He hears our prayers, and answers in one of three ways- yes, no or wait. ‘When You Wish Upon a Star’ and ‘Once Upon a December’, from the movies Pinocchio and Anastasia respectively, are both nicely done, and both bring to us a sense of nostalgia. And while a Christmas carol purist may scratch their head and wonder why such songs as these are on a Christmas album, both these songs remind us that songs of yesteryear that have themes of wishing and longing and wanting things to be true for us, can still be true for such a season as Christmas- for the gift of family, friends and the ultimate gift of Jesus Christ to this earth, are reasons enough for us to believe that things in our own lives, can turn around for the better this December-time. ‘We Need a Little Christmas’, from the musical MAME from the 1950s, is given a Pentatonix spin as this jovial track that reminds us all that we need a little Christmas in our lives, is ever poignant now, in a time of 2020 where COVID-19 has placed everything out of whack. ‘Seasons of Love’ rounds out the album as being a cover of one of the songs from the musical RENT, and speaks of how to measure a life- in minutes, time spent on certain menial tasks, or in how you love yourself and others in your sphere of influence.
‘Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone)’ and ‘Thank You’ are the remaining songs on the album, and are indeed the two standout songs from We Need A Little Christmas– ‘Amazing Grace’, a cover of the John Newton song, and complete with the added refrain written by Chris Tomlin way back when he unveiled ‘Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone)’ in 2006, is a great worshipful song that can hopefully bring into the frame of Christmas, the message of Christ to whomever hears this song on the album, as this rendition of it further showcases my own assertion that ‘Amazing Grace’ the song, with or without the added refrain by Chris Tomlin, is by far one of my favourite songs of all time; while ‘Thank You’ is a newly written song by singer Scott Hoying, dedicated to people who he wants to thank during this time of reflection and introspection. Whether it is thanking loved ones, or just thanking people during the difficult 2020 we have had, ‘Thank You’ places things in perspective as we seek to give thanks to people who may not necessarily believe that they deserve it, but nevertheless, do because of what they have continued to do in our lives each day.
‘…Acapella is something that has been living in the hearts of people ever since Pitch Perfect, The Sing Off and Pentatonix. And as 2020 continues to roll on, this nature of a pandemic and social and physical distancing restrictions that are now becoming the norm, is a reminder to always have things in our lives that we can depend on- acapella music by Pentatonix I’m sure being a great comfort to many during this time. It is in moments of difficulty and crisis where we realise that music that we know and songs that we have grown up with can be a reassurance like no other, that things are going to work out, oddly enough, it is the songs like ‘God Only Knows’, ‘Hallelujah’, ‘The Sound of Silence’, ‘Take On Me’ and ‘Over The Rainbow’ that are going to bring us through the other end of uncertainty, rather than songs from the radio at the moment. Regardless of how we as humans push through a collective unifying disaster like the one we’re in right now; we can all agree that Pentatonix, acapella music and oddly enough, Pitch Perfect, have all had a hand in our own journeys of late, some more than others, and some more than we would like to admit ourselves. Pentatonix have influenced a lot more of the music industry than we often realise, and have impacted and influenced our own personal lives in a way where we don’t fear acapella music as I’m sure we once did (I know I did, once upon a time). This quintet from Arlington, Texas have shook up what we have known to be acapella music, turned it around and twisted it inside out, to create one of the most beautiful and misunderstood representations of music arrangements that we have ever heard of in the decade of the 2010s…’ And it is in this quote that I will leave this ‘review’, and listen to We Need a Little Christmas again, because Lord knows (and He surely does!) that we really need a time like Christmas to recentre ourselves and to place things in perspective. Well done Pentatonix for such a powerful album, especially for songs like ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘Thank You’. A worship album in the future?
3 songs to listen to: Amazing Grace, Santa Tell Me, Thank You
RIYL: Peter Hollens, Cimorelli, Human Nature, Backstreet Boys, Avalon