Mannheim Steamroller's enduring popularity is as perplexing as it is disturbing. The brainchild of one Chip Davis, an Ohio native who eventually settled in Omaha, Nebraska, the Steamroller uses Davis's New Age deconstructions of Christmas carols to sound like Howard Jones whooping it up during a solemn midnight mass. Cheesy keyboards, hymnal organs and computerized rhythms bursting with dramatic Miami Vice
atmospherics overwhelm the versions of "Deck the Halls," "We Three Kings" and "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" that annually flood malls, light-rock radio stations and my father's CD player. Yet digging deeper into these dated creations reveals that Davis possesses some actual indie cred. The cogs-and-wheels syncopation on Steamroller's "Little Drummer Boy" presages the tics and stutters of laptop electro, and "Good King Wenceslas" burbles with vaguely Kraut-rocklike beat blasts that a band like the Sea and Cake might construct. In fact, few recent Christmas songs have infiltrated the crackling voices of the World War II generation to become holiday classics as quickly -- or as easily -- as the 'Roller's glorious "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing."