Album Review: Marc Martel - Thank God It's Christmas EP Posted November 18, 2020 By JJFrancesco_NRT, Staff Reviewer
What You Need To Know
Former Downhere co-frontman Marc Martel has become one of the most successful Indie artists around, carving out a few unique niches for himself in an ever-changing music landscape. In addition to his uncanny vocal likeness to the late Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, Martel has kept a foot in the door of the Christian music market with an annual release of Christmas EPs and singles that have brought him much success on radio charts. For years, fans have been clamoring for Martel to release the one song that serves as an overlap of the two. 2020's Christmas EP finally gifts fans their long-standing wish.
What It Sounds Like
If Martel has proven anything about his musical personality through the years, it's that he's more than eclectic. Martel can tackle everything from edgy rock to opera and make it sound amazing. His Christmas musical offerings have spanned from modern pop/rock to operatic, to 1950s throwbacks. His new EP offers a mix of many sounds of the season. Lead single "Christmas Waltz" offers the duet of the album (another of Martel's Christmas trademarks), featuring the legendary Amy Grant. The track is appropriately retro in feeling as if 2020's production reached back in the 1950s to snag this performance. For those familiar with the song, Martel's rendition is fairly straightforward, but his penchant for vocal surprises keeps the song fresh with little flourishes here and there to make it special.
A cover of The Drifters' version of "White Christmas" is a refreshing break from the increasingly stale covers of the standard arrangement. Martel does this iconic version justice and it fits well with his bombastic musical personality. (For those who don't recognize the original artist's name, it's the version playing during Kevin's classic comb mic moment in Home Alone.)
Two tracks, in particular, are likely to stand out to listeners the most. One of them is perhaps the most surprising inclusion on this EP, a cover of Lauren Daigle's "Light of the World." Daigle hails from Centricity Music, the record label Downhere called home for many years. This was her debut single, before How Can It Be's quinfecta of No. 1 singles lit the Christian music charts on fire or "You Say" kicked down the door to the mainstream. Daigle's version was hauntingly beautiful and powerful. The bar was quite high for Martel to reach, and yet he somehow delivered. Martel's version of the song doesn't really change much up from Daigle's, and yet the delivery hits all the dramatic and emotional notes. Martel's powerful voice soars and echoes into a truly memorable climactic finish.
And of course, there's the title track, the song Martel's fans have been begging him to record for years. In all their years as a band, Queen wrote but one Christmas song: "Thank God It's Christmas." After the troubles of 2020, Martel must've been moved to finally record his take on the song. While the original Queen version is dripping in 80's synth goodness, Martel instead opts for more jazzy Gospel-infused offerings, with his signature vocals still front and center. I suspect fans will respond well to it.
With secular and well-known standards usually the centerpieces of most Christmas projects, spiritual highlights are often harder to come by in Christmas projects. For this project, "Light of the World" offers the most spiritual meat with its worshipful chorus and focus on the birth of Christ. "Thank God It's Christmas" always stood as a bit of a prayerful player in the catalog of Christmas songs, even if "Thank God" becoming so commonplace a phrase in our vernacular drained the words themselves of some of their punch. Still, when you look at the lyrics themselves, they present as a sort of song of thanksgiving to God for the Christmas holiday after a long and difficult year. Since the original version's release, the power of this perspective has perhaps never been so plain to the world as it is in the year 2020. With more bad news around every corner and no signs of 2020 bowing out quietly, the "magic of Christmas" has perhaps never been craved more. As Christians, we intellectually know the power and importance of the birth of Christ into our world. Sometimes we can sort of lose sight of the true impact that should have on us. As lockdowns threaten more and more of our holiday traditions this year, it's a chance to truly lean into the "reason for the season" we all preach so much about every year, and yet often ourselves forget.
Now, I doubt Queen originally intended the song to be used as such a spiritual catalyst. And yet, with Martel's release of the song this year, we truly have an opportunity to use the song to meditate on what's really important and on what Christmas truly means. When we thank God for Christmas after a truly long, hard year, let's remember that whatever is missing this year for Christmas in quarantine, the real meaning of Christmas is still there.
Marc Martel expands his Christmas catalog with several new classics that are sure to please fans old and new alike. "Thank God It's Christmas" gets a long-overdue rendition by Martel, and other surprises you didn't even realize you wanted to make this one of the must-hear EPs of the holiday season.