If you were lucky enough to come of age in the ’90s, then you know that it was a treasure trove of really awesome Christmas albums. From ‘NSYNC’s peppy Home for Christmas to Mariah Carey’s high-note shattering Merry Christmas to everything Trans-Siberian Orchestra, let’s just say it was a great decade to listen to the radio around the holidays.
However, from where we’re sitting, the greatest and most enduring Christmas album from that era — the one we can put on today and not have everyone at the party instantly recognize it’s from a long-ago decade — is clearly Hanson’s Snowed In. Released just six months after the band’s record-shattering debut Middle of Nowhere, Snowed In was the best-selling Christmas album that year — and since news broke this fall that the brothers are putting out a brand new Christmas album in 2017, we’re going to do you a public service and remind you of just how great it is.
First, let’s talk song selection. The boys went with a minimal amount of classic carols (a gorgeous, stripped-down medley of “O Holy Night/Silent Night/O Come All Ye Faithful”) and early 20th century crooner classics (“White Christmas” ends the album), relying way more heavily on the sound that had recently made them very famous: pop rock. They cover the traditionally rockin’ songs from the ’50s and ’60s that they grew up with — the boys’ parents raised them on the stuff, as well as on playing their own instruments from an absurdly young age — by Chuck Berry (“Run Rudolph Run”), the Beach Boys (“Little Saint Nick”), and Brenda Lee (“Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”) with youthful teen boy vigor.
Also, while the album does boast a consistent sound that still makes it a smooth listen, it does let each brother shine as an individual. 14-year-old Taylor, the band’s de facto lead singer and, back then anyway, most popular brother, croons a heartfelt, puberty-addled rendition of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” that is still an all-time best, and that song is covered about as much as “All I Want For Christmas Is You” is played at Macy’s from October to December.
Zac’s solo songs, “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and “What Christmas Means to Me,” lack the quasi-sexual yearning typical of Taylor’s, but they’re sweet, peppy, and infectious — and since he was only 11-years-old when the album was made, we’re glad he was the one singing about Christmas party hops instead of wanting Christmas love from girls.
Eldest brother Isaac, meanwhile — who kind of got the short end of the stick on Middle of Nowhere — ended up with the album’s most mature and meditative track: “At Christmas,” one of three original songs penned by the boys along with “Christmas Time,” which is good, and “Everybody Knows the Claus,” which is literally about Santa being fat and, well, not. “At Christmas” finds 16-year-old Isaac waxing nostalgic about spending Christmas with his family, which is essentially perfect for those of us who grew up with this album and are now missing the comfort and safety of our youth.
“Christmas Time” also leans heavily on nostalgia, with Taylor — of course! — adding a dose of sex by proclaiming he “needs a little lovin’ around Christmas time.” Because really, if anything, this album serves as undeniable proof that Hanson and their management team knew their (teen girl) audience and what they wanted (Taylor) back in 1997.
Basically, while Snowed In lacks a single as ubiquitous as Carey’s aforementioned behemoth or as bubblegum pop glorious as “Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays” by ‘NSYNC, overall it’s a fantastic selection for fans of Christmas music looking for something a little less cheesy and a lot more rock n’ roll.