I’ve been lazy with my review goals this year. It was my original intention to review albums as I got them, but that quickly fell by the wayside. As fall arrived I tried to do a review a day, hoping to catch up. I’ve been pretty good with that, but an unexpected business trip earlier this week put me behind. I’m still determined to squeeze in all my reviews by year’s end, so I’m going to try to get 2 in per day. Nobody reads these anyway, it’s really just a writing exercise for myself, but a goal is a goal. In this post I’m killing two birds with one stone by discussing both of the Misfits’ holiday singles.
Released Oct. 29th / Dec. 3rd on Misfits Records
The Misfits have kept busy in 2013. They released Dead Alive! in February, then went in to record some new studio tracks for a pair of holiday-themed releases. Their Halloween single arrived with a new recording of “Descending Angel” from 1999’s Famous Monsters, backed with a studio cut of their cover of The Rocky Horror Show‘s “Science Fiction/Double Feature” (Dead Alive! had featured a live rendition). A few weeks ago they released the Horror Xmas EP (its title and cover art a play on the original lineup’s 1979 “Horror Business” single) featuring a new original tune, “Island of Misfit Toys”, and two covers of holiday favorites, “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” and “Blue Christmas”. Since there are only 5 tracks to discuss, I’ll hit them all beginning with the Halloween single.
Aside from adding a piano intro and outro, the new recording of “Descending Angel” doesn’t deviate from the Famous Monsters original. It does, however, show off the strengths of the current lineup. Jerry Only’s singing has continually improved since taking over the mic, and his croon is very well showcased here and compares favorably to the original Michale Graves vocal. Drummer Eric Arce is given slightly more room to stretch than on 2011’s The Devil’s Rain, though the song doesn’t contain a lot of flourishes. It’s Dez Cadena who makes the biggest impression here musically, his bluesy tone distinguishing this take on the song from the more metallic sound of the original. Though following the template of Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein’s original riffs, he’s not replicating them verbatim and injects his own personality throughout, particularly in the solo.
The studio version of “Science Fiction/Double Feature” is more satisfying than the Dead Alive! live cut, benefiting not only from some polish but also the addition of backing harmonies. Only’s vocals are very befitting for a song meant to homage/parody ’50s doo-wop tunes. The band is clearly having fun here and it shows.
Horror Xmas leads off with a cover of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” from the classic 1966 animated special Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Misfits up the tempo and turn the main theme into a metallic punk riff. On this track, Only sings in a melodic baritone clearly meant to recall Thurl Ravenscroft’s distinctive voice in the original. It’s an odd sound, but this is a novelty song covered for a novelty release, and in the spirit of a holiday lark it largely works. The new original, “Island of Misfits Toys”, is much more in keeping musically with the material on The Devil’s Rain, particularly “The Black Hole”, with a dash of Ramones thrown in at the end. While not really strong enough to stand alone (perhaps why it appears here on the B-side), as part of a holiday EP it strikes the appropriate chords of fun. The band then takes the holiday favorite “Blue Christmas” (most famously associated with Elvis Presley’s 1964 rendition but dating all the way back to 1948) and rev it up to Ramones speed. This cover is the most festive and enjoyable of the bunch, the rockabilly guitar in the second half adding an additional flair of “classic” to the take.
As a pair of holiday novelties, “Descending Angel” and Horror Xmas shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Naysayers will always find things to ridicule, such as the metallic take on “Grinch” and the fact that 4 out of the 5 “new” Misfits tracks this year are covers, but casual fans should find themselves digging the new cut of “Descending Angel” and the band’s take on “Blue Christmas”. Devotees will take both records for what they are—themed holiday novelties—and in that spirit will likely find plenty to enjoy on both releases.
3/5 on both