HO HO WHO: Josh Groban, he of the angelic voice and six-times platinum Christmas classic Noel. Now, 10 years after that album’s release, Groban has graced us with an unnecessary update. The deluxe edition of the 2007 mega-hit features six more songs, including a cover of John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over).”
SO THIS IS A CHRISTMAS SONG?: That’s just what they want you to think. Lennon learned a valuable lesson while writing “Imagine:” You have to “put your political message across with a little honey.” While the saccharine children’s chorus, jangly guitar, and sleigh bells all scream holiday tune, this is a protest song in Santa’s clothing. And a subversive one at that. Look beyond its honey-coated trappings and you find sardonic lyrics that take aim at the Vietnam War: “So this is Christmas / And what have we done?” Groban’s take on this song is more straightforward than Lennon’s. His soaring vocals that ring as clearly as a Christmas bell and a cinematic arrangement make this version more somber and serious, and it lacks the knowing wink of Lennon’s original. Put another way, Josh Groban sings “Happy Xmas” like it’s a Christmas song.
WAR ISN’T OVER: No matter which side of the political aisle you’ll be repping in your wine-fueled familial post-dinner shouting match, we can all agree that the war isn’t over. Which war it is that still rages is up for debate. Perhaps you’re thinking of the war in Afghanistan, which is still happening more than 16 years after it began. Or maybe you #resist the Trump administration on a daily basis. Supposed monument enthusiasts across the country would have you believe the Civil War is still ongoing. No matter where your mind goes, this bummer of a holiday song is sure to darken your spirits. Offering neither hope nor battle cry, this “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” brings nothing to the table.
CHEER FACTOR:4/10. A song that asks each of us to examine our role in injustice and violence at home and abroad may be important (though, again, Groban’s “Happy Xmas” is not as coyly seditious as Lennon’s), but it’s not cheerful. Still, because people seem to enjoy both the original version of this song and Josh Groban himself, you can get away with playing it at a holiday party and nobody will get upset.