I don’t like Frank Sinatra. I find him smug, and that smugness always comes across in his too-perfect voice. This holiday season has come with the realization that I nearly always prefer straight instrumentals to lyrical versions of seasonal songs, because it eliminates the voices of those egotistical singers who make it all about them and their own voices. This is especially true in Mel Tormé’s “The Christmas Song,” a song already suffering from the fact that it’s a list of clichés sung together in a mostly monotone tune. Add Sinatra’s swaggering personality and it becomes insufferable.
It comes down to character: Sinatra’s voice has no character, its polished pitch and timbre like spending the night in modern hotel room, all stainless steel and reflective surfaces. I’d rather be in a place with a bunch of stuff tacked to the fridge. Nat King Cole’s version at least benefits from Cole’s creamy, warm voice, imbuing the rote words with some friendly personality. He actually sounds like he cares about what he’s singing; Sinatra (like always) sounds like it’s just the latest venue to display his impeccable voice.