There's something about Christmas compilation CDs that can really bring out the cynic in a person. Do major-label heads really care about holiday spirit and all that good stuff, or are they just trying to secure some seasonal airplay for their big names and a little free publicity for their breaking artists? Take Maybe This Christmas. Before even listening to the disc, you can't help but notice the heady mix of hitmakers such as Vanessa Carlton and Barenaked Ladies (with Sarah McLachlan), up-and-comers such as Phantom Planet and Coldplay, "prestige" artists (i.e., bands that someone at the label actually likes even though they're never gonna move a lot of units) such as Neil Finn and Ron Sexsmith and tax write-offs such as Dan Wilson (the guy from Semisonic -- who the hell knows?). Add in the Paul Frank-designed Christmas monkey on the front cover, and the whole thing seems so, well, calculated.
Fortunately, though, calculated or not, Maybe This Christmas is an enjoyable collection of music that holds together far better than most compilations of its type. Although there may not be an obvious hit track, there are no complete duds, either (but if Ben Folds isn't careful, he's going to get awarded honorary Canadian citizenship for churning out "quirky" tunes such as "Bizarre Christmas Incident"), and rather than angsting everything up in a clichéd postmodern kind of way, the artists here play it mostly mellow; even Bright Eyes' Connor Oberst foregoes his usual little-retarded-boy-singing-show-tunes shtick and turns in a quite pleasant "Blue Christmas".
Maybe This Christmas may be that rarest of Christmas albums, taking its place with Vince Guaraldi's A Charlie Brown Christmas as something that the whole family may be able to listen to without fighting, and, as odd as the notion of grandmas all over the country asking to borrow their hipster grandkid's Jimmy Eat World CD after hearing their pretty "12/23/95" might be, isn't bringing families together the reason for the season? Why would anyone be cynical about that?