Every year, the Christmas season seems to start a little bit earlier than it did the year before.
For 2009, I guess it starts within the first week of October, as there's already Christmas music releasing in the CCM world.
And the first release just so happens to be from none other than Family Force 5. Now this isn't the
Family's first attempt at Christmas music, as they did their own rendition of the quirky "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer"
several years back, but this is their first full-length Christmas album. And they do a pretty good job of making the
Christmas classics their own.
Family Force 5's Christmas Pageant gets things started with a Crouton-led, dirty south rendition of "Carol of
the Bells." It's already blatantly obvious that much time was taken on this project, as anything FF5 does, which is
necessary if they want to pull off an atypical Christmas album like this. So with the quality in order, it's safe to move
on to the next track, "Little Drummer Boy." The high-pitched vocals and sped-up beat may throw a few off, but it's still a
quality track, and it's given the FF5 touch when Soul Glow comes in with a "Shall I play for Him, pa-rum-pum-pum-pum, on my
drum machine, watch me play this thing." "Christmas Time Is Here" is next, the famous song from the Peanuts Christmas
special, followed by a song that, to my knowledge, isn't actually a Christmas song. It's "My Favorite Things" from the
movie The Sound of Music. Regardless of the questionable placement on a Christmas album, it's definitely a
highlight of this collection, and it's actually fairly close to resembling a song from Business Up Front, Party In The Back.
It's got a nice beat throughout, with some quasi-rocking guitar riffs in the chorus - and a guitar solo as well - that may
please some fans of older FF5 material. The similarities to older FF5 continue a bit into "Angels We Have Heard On High,"
which also includes a beatboxing loop behind the actual drums.
The second half of the disc starts off with a popular Christmas carol, "Do You Hear What I Hear?" Despite the somewhat
annoying repeating of "Do you hear what I, do you hear what I hear?" at times throughout, it's actually a well-done
remake, with even a slightly industrial-style beat, but mainly starts to go back to the dirty south feel like "Carol of
the Bells." FF5 then took "Twas the Night Before Christmas" and gave it a beautiful beat that sounds like it came straight
from a Reach Records artist. The musical style changes quite a bit for the next song, "It's Christmas Day," which sounds
like a boy band Christmas ballad, but also ends up being one of the best songs on the whole album. The song, which was
cowritten with Third Day's Mac Powell, features a guest appearance from an older gospel singer, Jerome Olds, who also
just so happens to be the father of FF5's Crouton, Fatty and Soul Glow Activatur. Another style shift goes back to dirty
south for a Family Force 5 original, "The Baby." It's sung from the perspective of one of the wise men going to meet the
baby Jesus in the manger. A strange-sounding loop of a baby's babbling (Soli's son, Cash, maybe?) plays here and there in
the song, but it still is probably a personal favorite song on Christmas Pageant. The final song is a great
remake of "Wonderful Christmas Time," which stays a little true to the original, but actually sounds more like Earthsuit's
rendition. A good way to end the album, even with the offsetting "ringalingaling."
I'm one who enjoys hearing what artists will put out a Christmas album (and what songs they'll include) each year when
the season rolls around. I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I heard that Family Force 5 was doing one this year, but
I was pleasantly surprised at what they came up with. As the Atlanta boys keep making more music, the quality and maturity
of the music keeps increasing. And though some don't approve of the different sounds they've been making as of late, the
band still knows what they're doing, and they've crafted ten songs that make up what will probably be one of the best
Christmas albums this year - not to mention, what may be the absolute most non-traditional Christmas album to have been made in a long
time. I definitely think it's important to have the traditional sounds of Christmas carols, but it would be good to
have more of this as well.
- Review date: 9/28/09, written by Scott Fryberger of Jesusfreakhideout.com
To be honest, the very idea of a Family Force 5 Christmas album seems ingenious, especially after the fun and funky
"Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer" the band recorded for a radio station over three years ago. However, as the guys
move more away from that crunk rock flavor and more towards dance, hip hop, and R&B, their debut full-length Christmas
project has its share of musical schizophrenia. While, admittedly, the album is holiday fun from its start to finish, some of the
song executions borrow a bit too heavily from mainstream trends to feel truly Christmasy or Family Force 5
(The squeaky vocal in "Angels..." and the electronic voice effects on several tracks, specifically). However, at the same
time, it's tracks like "Carol Of The Bells" and "Do You Hear What I Hear" that are exactly what we can expect from
the Atlanta quintet - and they're true gems. Another surprise highlight is the entirely uncharacteristic FF5 original,
"It's Christmas Day," a pop ballad that's fashioned perfectly for pop radio and probably will stand the test of time
longer than any of their other renditions here. Still, despite its flaws (including such a short running time -- 33 minutes
and 10 songs?!), there's a freshness and life that FF5 breathes into the classics
that uses the familiarity to capture the Christmas spirit while reinventing them for the modern age. While this may not
go down in history as one of the best Christmas albums, it's certainly still a whole lot of fun. I myself will be spinning this
one a lot this Christmas season... and most likely for quite a few to come.
- John DiBiase of Jesusfreakhideout.com