I definitely think there's something to this. Whenever I read my little brown books, I'm constantly struck by how much more, well, magical the magic items seem to be. One of the reasons is because, more often than not, the descriptions of the item contains almost nothing in the way of explicit mechanics. They're suggestive of mechanics but they provide no unambiguous way to handle their use in play. They're mostly flavor text that doubles as game mechanics and so, as I read these entries, I find myself thinking, "What does that mean?" and "How would that work in play?" My answers to these questions almost always result in items that aren't just pieces of magical technology but something much more intriguing.
Take, for example, the old standby -- and something even I will admit is a rip-off from Tolkien -- the elven cloak. This is what OD&D has to say about it: "Wearing the Cloak makes a person next to invisible." Next to invisible? What does that mean? Contrast this to AD&D, whose description of the item, now dubbed the cloak of elvenkind, is much more specific:
A cloak of elvenkind is of a plain neutral gray which is indistinguishable from any sort of ordinary cloak of the same color. However, when it is worn, with the hood drawn up around he head, it enables the wearer to be nearly invisible, for the cloak has chameleon-like powers. In the outdoors, the wearer of a cloak of elvenkind is almost totally invisible in natural surroundings, nearly so in other settings. Note that the wearer is easily seen if violently or hastily moving, regardless of the surroundings.The description then goes on to give specific percentage chances of how invisible the wearer is, from 100% in heavy growth in natural surroundings to 50% while underground and illuminated by the continual light spell. I'm not keen on this degree of specificity, but, even with it, there's still some wiggle room for the referee -- and players! -- because what constitutes "heavy growth" as opposed to "light growth" is a matter of opinion. You can see, though, that, even with all the expansive physical/metaphysical description of the cloak, its functioning ultimately comes down to a D100 roll.
Third Edition, as it so often does, pares down Gygaxian flavor text and reduces AD&D's baroque mechanics to banality: "This cloak of neutral gray cloth is indistinguishable from an ordinary cloak of the same color. However, when worn with the hood drawn up around the head, it gives the wearer a +5 competence bonus on Hide checks." Fourth Edition is even more laconic: "Gain an item bonus to Stealth checks equal to the cloak’s enhancement bonus." There's not even a nod to flavor text.
I fully understand why D&D's descriptions of magic items have developed the way that they have, but that doesn't mean I have to approve of it. In my opinion, the so-called "Christmas tree effect" is not a consequence of there being too many magic items in D&D (though I have no objection to making them rarer). Rather, it's the result of reducing magic items to being a collection game mechanics that always and everywhere work in the same way. If an elven cloak is always a flat +X bonus to skill check Y, then of course the item becomes problematic when combined with other bonuses gleaned from other sources, thereby lending credence to the absurd notion that magic items need to be "reined in."
I grow ever more convinced that the quest for "objectivity" and "balance" in roleplaying games is the surest way to bleed all the magic out of them, as well as to create an audience that then perceives any "imbalance" as a flaw requiring yet more corrections and re-tunings to overcome. Certainly this approach sells more books and helps give further justification to "Sage Advice" columns and the like, but at what cost? "Game balance" is a chimera and not the cool three-headed variety. To embrace this is one of the keys to appreciating and enjoying old school play. It's something I embraced with great joy and I've never looked back.