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Amid a Christmas carol landscape dominated by crooners, back in 2008, alternative rock band Weezer proved that there was room at the inn for electric guitar and hard drumming. An album that succeeded because it never tried to do too much, Christmas with Weezer still holds up today as an uncommon offering that serves up a unique take on traditional Christmas classics.

The simplicity that makes Christmas With Weezer work likely lies in the fact that it wasn’t conceived as an album but rather as the backbone of a mobile video game. The six songs, including “Silent Night” and “O Come All Ye Faithful,” were originally recorded for a Weezer-themed version of the unfestively titled “Tap Tap Revenge” app, which was similar to Guitar Hero and happened to be the most popular iPhone game of 2008.

It’s a genre of game that requires familiar tunes, so original songs and parodies were a no-go. Weezer would have to stick to the Christmas songs everyone knew and loved while putting their own spin on the decades-old classics.

That game received a harsh review from MTV, but fans loved it and created an absolute ruckus for the band to make the music available in a format that didn’t require incessantly tapping the screen of an iPhone 3. So Weezer jumped back into the studio to re-record the tracks and beef them up for release as an EP since the app had been treated as somewhat of a pet project driven by Weezer drummer and burgeoning mobile gamer Pat Wilson, who actually laid down the guitar tracks for the game.

Among the improvements Weezer made for the album were revising some of frontman Rivers Cuomo’s vocals and adding backing vocals from lead guitarist Brian Bell. But while they made the songs more robust, the band didn’t add verses or otherwise lengthen any of the tracks. Thus, the four-minute runtime for “Oh Holy Night” is a significant outlier as the only song on the album to exceed two and a half minutes.

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Opting for depth without sacrificing brevity really paid off. For example, Weezer includes both a solid guitar solo and a key change in just under 90 seconds on “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” to open the album. Changing the drumming cadence for the chorus on “O Come All Ye Faithful” gives the carol an added punch of energy without cranking the volume so high that it doesn’t feel like a Christmas carol anymore.

And while Rivers Cuomo’s voice isn’t optimally suited for ballads, the earnestness of his singing is allowed to shine through by keeping the instrumentals at reasonable levels. Sure, Weezer’s version of “Silent Night” may include more dissonance than most versions of the song, but it captures the classic Weezer sound that leaves listeners feeling like that band is putting forth an honest effort without trying too hard.

It’s a Blue Album sound that, at the time, was a welcome return for Weezer fans. Earlier in the year, Weezer had veered hard into pop music territory with the Red Album, even though they had achieved plenty of success up to that point, making solidly alternative music. In some respects, Christmas With Weezer was a sign that even though the band was experimenting with different sounds, they still knew how to shred and could do so in ways few expected was possible.

Christmas With Weezer