Prime Cuts: What Child is This/Fragile, Oh Holy Night, Maybe
Overall Grade: 5/5
Sting's "Fragile" as a Christmas song? Yes, we know it's a great song, this is why renowned pop crooners such as Julio Iglesias and Dionne Warwick as well as jazz veterans such as Cassandra Wilson and Kirk Whalum have all placed their imprints on this 1987 single. But "Fragile" as a Christmas song? And who in their right mind would christened their seasonal record "Fragile"? What's wrong with "White Christmas" or "Merry Christmas" or the economical titular "Christmas"? On paper, "Fragile" looks disastrous and untenable. Yet, when Nichole Nordeman puts his whispery alto to work, the song not only works, it excels. It takes on a Christmasy life of its own. It also sets the tenure and theme of the record. And "Fragile" becomes one of Nordeman's best efforts.
"Fragile" is Nordeman's debut Christmas album. After twenty years with Sparrow Records, "Fragile" is also Nordeman's first independent release. Thanks to the fervent support of her fans, we get this eleven-song project. "Fragile" features three Nordeman originals and eight covers. The set opens with "What Child is this/Fragile," which is a going to be a signature tune for this CCM singer-songwriter. The muse behind this Sting composition is Ben Linder, an American civil engineer, who was killed by the Contras while working on a hydroelectric project in Nicaragua. By juxtaposing a song about human violence ("Fragile") with the innocence of the Christ-child ("What Child is This"), Nordeman is powerfully advocating that only Christ is the panacea to human violence and cruelty.
Such a theme is at the forefront with Nordeman's rendition of "O Holy Night." The steely synth assault set against Nordeman's tender vocal embraces gorgeously bring out the contrasting nuances between human violence and Christ's agape love. By track #3, she puts the cards on our table as she challenges each of us to be purveyors of such a divine love in the piano-ballad "Maybe." Then she tries to stir our indifferences with the sharp twitching sounds of her guitar's nylon strings on the sparse "Christmas Time is Here."
Few capture the angst of "O Come O Come Emmanuel" as dramatically as Nordeman. And to transliterate this perturbation into 21st Century rhetoric, she pens "We Watch, We Wait." Despite the song's steely electronic reverbs, Nordeman accompanies us into a tear-inducing narrative of the times when we are to wait for our Messiah. "How Love Comes (Gloria)" erects no scaffolds to how Christ's love actually addresses the specific ills our society is facing. When the piano strikes on "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" you can almost hear Nordeman up, close and personal as though she's singing each syllable to us urging us to rest in the tenderness of our Savior.
After such an odyssey of witnessing how Christ confronts this violent world not with brute force but with sacrificial love, "Let There be Peace on Earth" takes on a fuller meaning. In the context of this record, "Let There Be Peace on Earth" is a celebratory apex of the album and also of the season. All in all, this record, like its titular, is a strange one. It's not like 99% of the Christmas records out there. Yet, it's so sublime; it's message of how Christ is the answer to human's violence is so true and so alluring.