If you’re reading this, you probably already know that early this month, former Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver frontman Scott Weiland was found dead in his tour bus in Bloomington, Minnesota. I’m far from a huge Weiland fan–I’ll be the first to admit that I have to do an internal double-take every time I hear an STP song, just to confirm that it’s not actually by Pearl Jam–but I did grow up in the ’90s, and I was as shocked (though, sadly, not surprised) to hear of the 48-year-old vocalist’s tragic and untimely death as anyone else of my generation. Like all of us, I’m saddened that he seems to have lost his lifelong struggle with substance abuse, and I hope the best for the children and loved ones he left behind.
That, however, is not what this post is about. This post is about something I read in one of the many obituaries published in the wake of Weiland’s death: that the troubled alt-rock icon had, in 2011, recorded and released an entire album of Christmas songs. Now, as an avowed connoisseur of pop-oriented holiday fare, I knew that this was something I had to hear. And I’m happy to report that Weiland’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year is, against all odds, a surprisingly good Christmas album.
Even more surprisingly, it’s a Christmas album your grandmother could get behind. For a man widely considered to be among the most debauched in contemporary rock and roll, Weiland’s taste in holiday music was strikingly traditional. Just look at the track list: “The Christmas Song,” “White Christmas“; even hymns like “Silent Night” and “What Child is This?” make an appearance. Musically, too, the arrangements don’t get much edgier than, say, A Jolly Christmas from Frank Sinatra. It’s a deliberately retro production–right down to the surreal, kitschy video for “Winter Wonderland” (see above), in which Weiland and a bevy of Stepford Wives decorate the world’s most plastic of Christmas trees.
It’s also done with a remarkably straight face. This isn’t a self-consciously “Rock Christmas” album like, say, Twisted Sister’s Twisted Christmas; it makes no effort to underline Weiland’s counterculture cred, or overtly send up the absurdity of a festive album from a notorious drug addict. There are, of course, plenty of clues that Weiland is proceeding with more than a tinge of irony: from the aforementioned “Winter Wonderland” video, to the faux-bossa-nova and reggae (!) arrangements of, respectively, “Silent Night” and “O Holy Night.” But real sincerity has never been a prerequisite for great holiday music; just recall, again, Sinatra’s 1957 Christmas album, which sounds like it was cranked out in a single evening, fuelled by sarcasm and liberal quantities of gin. What matters in this game is the appearance of sincerity, and The Most Wonderful Time of the Year has that in spades. Look at its cover, which appears to have been taken right after Weiland jumped Jason Mraz in an alleyway and stole his clothes. Or the military-themed video for “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” (see below), on which Scott lays the flag-waving patriotism and World War II cosplay imagery so thick that it’s actually a little gross (though, to his credit, he at least had the good taste to leave his Iron Cross hat at home).
Indeed, probably the reason The Most Wonderful Time of the Year was so little discussed before Weiland’s death is that it almost defies critical analysis: it’s a strange curio of an album, one that no one asked for, with no real reason to exist. But isn’t that sort of true of most Christmas albums? And now, in the wake of Weiland’s passing–especially coming as it did in the early weeks of the holiday season–it’s weirdly humanizing (if also just plain weird) to hear him crooning over a set of holiday standards. Let’s be honest: this probably isn’t how Scott Weiland wanted to be remembered. But it’s how I’m remembering him now, and the crazy thing is, there are worse ways. Scott Weiland was many things: a major force in the glory years of “alternative rock,” a “voice of his generation,” a burnt-out casualty of the rock and roll lifestyle. But he was also a man, no more and no less: a man who, just four years ago, made this quaint little holiday record. I’m glad it exists.
Buy The Most Wonderful Time of the Year on Amazon, or stream it on Spotify below: