If you are tired of hearing Michael Buble, sick of Mariah Carey, and fancy adorning your Christmas Party or family gathering with something that is sure to put a smile on the face of all, then the Elf Soundtrack is for you. Much like the film, it is infused with glee and joy and is sure to get you in the festive mood.
The album itself draws heavily on American swing to provide a happy take on many classic Christmas tunes. It’s a style which isn’t unique to this album and can be found on many a Christmas compilation however with the Elf Soundtrack you get a concentrated dose which is never a bad thing. For essentially a Christmas album, Elf is bookended by two songs which haven’t the slightest relevance to the season of lights and presents. Opening to Louis Prima’s “Pennies from Heaven” the swing credentials of the album are stamped firmly on the sleeve being confirmed by a scat-like duet between Louis and the brass trumpet which is classic. Despite having not a single mention of Christmas in the lyrics, there is a festive feel of happiness and the chaos of the season, which is probably as a result of its use in the film. You can’t help but think back to Buddy the Elf making his way through downtown New York eating used chewing gum and running through revolving doors. The album closes to the equally unfestive “Nothing from Nothing” by Billy Preston which provides the credit closing song in the movie itself. The jangly piano and Motown vocals, while feeling at odds with the rest of the album, just cannot be denied. There is just something cool about this whole package.
But since it tis the season to be jolly, the album opens its festive account with Ella Fitzgerald’s “Sleigh Ride”. Again the warm brass of a Big Band greet your ears as Ella’s big vocals guide you through a winter wonderland that everyone can imagine. Snow drifts adorn the sides of the roads, houses are lit with oodles of lights and smiles are exchanged with strangers for no other reason that it’s Christmas. The strange thing about “Sleigh Ride” is that in just one song, we get the same track again. However, rather than the smooth styling’s of swing we are given a more traditional rendition on a piano, laden with jingle bells, and perhaps to break the repetitive nature the version is blended with “Santa Claus Party”. The sleigh bells remain and are joined with a 50’s jolly quartet.
One of the most memorable moments in “Elf” is when a showering Zooey Deschanel is joined in a impromptu duet with Will Ferrell to the classic his and hers song “Baby It’s Cold Outside”. While this is sadly not included, it is recreated with the Buddy’s vocals replaced by deep raspy tones of blues legend Leon Redbone, who also takes a turn as Leon the Snowman in the film. The jazz and blues vibe suits Zooey’s vulnerable vocals and makes this version of “Baby It’s Cold Outside” one which is really enjoyable. Leon makes two more appearances firstly on the frankly bonkers calypso lilt of “Christmas Island” and then again on the more festive yet bluesy take on “Winter Wonderland”.
The odd moment on the Soundtrack comes in the form of Brain Setzer’s take on “The Nutcracker Suite”. Whether it is the fact that this is such an iconic Christmas moment for a lot of people, or the class of styles, but the brass heavy, sax crooning version of this ballet piece while not abhorrent, feels overly long and complicated. It lurches from swing to the classic tinkling piano to sultry bossa nova. It’s a beguiling combination which has some really good moments before catching you by surprise, like a snowball from a pesky street brat. Like most things at this time of the year, it can’t exactly decided what it wants to be and as a result tries to be too many things at once.
More American swing versions of Christmas classics come in the form of Eddy Arnold’s “Santa Claus is Coming to Coming Town”, Jim Reeve’s croon fest “Jingle Bells” and Eartha Kitt’s “Santa Baby”. It is a delight to hear the original version of this festive treat, which oozes with the wicked femininity of foxy lady waiting for some treats from a visiting gentleman.
The stand out track, on an album which already has the swagger and wink of a classy Vegas showman is Lena Horne’s “Let it Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow”. The big band controls the brass and trumpets, while strings smooth a path through to true Christmas joy.