From rap pioneers to art-rock weirdos, the history of Christmas music is full of unlikely participants. As ZE Records co-founder Michel Esteban noted on the release of his label’s knowingly ridiculous 'A Christmas Record', the “principles of Christmas” (the family, gifts and peace to the world) are somewhat contradictory with the conventional vision of rock & roll. The same could be said for hip-hop, R&B and most modern pop music. Yet reggae, with its focus on togetherness and community, is oddly suited to the holidays. That may be what inspired Shaggy’s foray into seasonal music. That or the dump-truck of money he was presumably offered to attempt it.
'Christmas On The Islands' appears to have been written on the basis that the concept is passably amusing, yet it actually contains some of Shaggy’s more focused music in recent years. With no expectation to adapt to chart trends, he sounds at ease on feather-light reggae cuts like ‘No Icy Christmas’ and the title track, while his take on ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’ is pleasantly straight-forward.
However, like much of Shaggy’s music over the past decade, some of these songs seem unsure if they are meant to be taken seriously. One would assume a song called ‘Raggamuffin Christmas’ would reach for the playful energy of his global smash hits – the result is unsatisfyingly gloomy. Other songs feel only tenuously linked to the holidays. When on the album’s dancehall-lite second track guest Omi sings “We got love… this Christmas”, the reference feels like he is fulfilling an unwanted obligation.
With such thin material to work with and little discipline to stay on message, it is unsurprising that Christmas on the Islands runs out of steam in its second half as the novelty wears off. As an attempt to mash reggae with the holiday season, it is neither a triumph or a disaster – falling short of the charming 'Reggae Christmas From Studio One' compilation but avoiding the nightmare of Bryan Adams’ spectacularly misjudged ‘Reggae Christmas’. That is possibly the most disappointing outcome though – you would hope a Shaggy Christmas album would at least be memorable.
Words: Conrad Duncan
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